2005-08-18 / Medical

Medicare Offering More Cataract Treatment Options

More than 20.5 million Americans suffer from cataracts and the number is expected to balloon to 30.1 million by 2020.

Today, those who suffer from cataracts, the leading cause of low vision in Americans, and the inevitable symptoms of presbyopia, have new products available to them.

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens which blocks light needed for sight. New options for intraocular lenses include Crystalens by Eyeonics Inc., ReSTOR from Alcon, Inc., and ReZoom from Advanced Medical Optics, and have all been approved by the FDA. The devices work in the same way as the original lens and help to restore the ability of cataract patients to see both near and far.

Guideline changes, announced in early May, now allow Medicare recipients the choice of receiving basic lens replacement, paid in full by Medicare up to $2,000, or applying the credit to new replacement lenses that can correct farsightedness in addition to cataract removal. Patients would then be responsible for paying the difference.

Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in people age 65 and older. The surgery has a 95 percent success rate with generally a minimal recovery time. Some patients are back to normal in just a few days.

“We hope that this new Medicare policy change will help to ease the burden of costs to many of our seniors so they can afford and have access to the latest in cataract surgery technology,” said Louis Pizzarello, Associate Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology and Public Health Columbia Univer-sity.

“We are encouraged that the government is recognizing the need for these important changes to address the increasing demand for vision care.”

Cataracts generally are painless. However, visit your eye doctor if you experience the following:

• Blurred vision, double vision, ghost images, the sense of a “film” over the eyes.

• Lights seem too dim for reading or close-up work, or strong lights seem to “dazzle” eyes.

• Changing eyeglass prescriptions often, without experiencing improvement.

• A milky or yellowish spot appears in the pupil (the center of the eye is normally black).

New Options for Cataract Sufferers

Although there is no way to prevent the development of cataracts, the following are common risk factors:

•Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun: PBA recommends choosing sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. A wide-brimmed hat will block about 50 percent of the UV radiation that might enter the eye around glasses. It is very important to protect children’s eyes, as the damaging effects of UV rays are cumulative -extended exposure over many years will increase your risk of cataracts later in life.

•Smoking: Cigarette smoke is known to contain substances that interfere with the eye’s antioxidant defense mechanisms. Research has shown that the more you smoke, the greater your risk of cataracts. Fortunately, studies also show that you can reduce your risk of cataracts by kicking the habit.

•Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a much younger age. Given the rising prevalence of diabetes worldwide, people should do everything they can to avoid developing type 2 diabetes. Obesity is not only a risk factor in developing diabetes, but may increase the risk of cataracts by two-thirds.

•Long-time steroid use: Steroids given orally, intravenously or topically (eye drops) have been shown to increase the risk of cataracts. Inhaled steroids commonly used to treat asthma and some allergies, taken for more than three years, also increase the risk of cataracts.

•Eye Injuries: Physical injuries, such as a blow to the eye, a cut, burn, puncture, or exposure to intense heat or cold, can lead to cataracts formation.

The best way to avoid eye injuries is to wear proper eye protection while playing sports or using power tools, and keep dangerous products away from children.

Childhood eye injuries can lead to cataracts and glaucoma later on in life.

In observance of Cataract Awareness Month in August, Prevent Blindness Tri-State is offering free cataract brochures and fact sheets in both English and Spanish by calling 800-850-2020 or by logging on to


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