Posted 4/16/2012 by UNMC Physicians
Ten years ago, there were no scrolling scores at the bottom of our high definition televisions. There were no tablets and smart phones with small text to read. Now, it’s hard to imagine a world without them.
One quirky positive of the digital proliferation in today’s society is that people are more apt to notice when their eyesight is suffering. In some cases, this is leading to earlier detection and treatment of cataracts, said Lance Kugler, MD, a refractive specialist at UNMC Physicians Eye Specialties.
“Many people starting to develop cataracts are so dependent on reading digital devices and high definition TV that they don’t want to delay surgery as long as previous generations tended to,” Kugler said.
Surgery is the only treatment for cataracts, one of the most common types of age-related vision loss; it involves removing the cataracts and implanting an intraocular lens (IOL). Traditional cataracts surgery corrects the dark and cloudy vision, but patients still need bifocals after surgery to correct astigmatism (blurry vision) and presbyopia (the inability to see up close for reading or other near tasks)
Fortunately, there are now options for cataract patients: advanced technology IOLs. Two types of advanced technology IOLs are currently available in the US: toric IOLs for the correction of astigmatism and presbyopia-correcting IOLs. Versions of these IOLs have been available for several years, but technology improvements have led cataract surgeons to increasingly recommend them as an option to patients.
“Today’s cataracts patients are younger and more active than in the past. They don’t want to wear bifocals for 40 years and give up their lifestyle,” Kugler said.
Advanced technology IOLs greatly reduce or eliminate a patient’s dependence on glasses. Once a surgeon removes the cataract, he or she implants the advanced technology IOL rather than the standard one to correct a patient’s vision.
“With advanced technology IOLs, patients are less dependent on glasses for most day to day activities, and sometimes completely free from glasses,” Kugler said. “More than 75 percent of cataracts patients are candidates for advanced technology lenses, but only 7 percent of cataract surgery patients in the US receive them.”
The low percentage may be partially explained by the cost of the technology. Advanced technology IOLs are not covered by medical insurance plans, so patients must pay for the upgrade. However, Kugler feels that cost is only a small part of the reason for the low number. He suggests that as cataract surgeons become more comfortable with the additional skills and testing required to use the lenses, the number of patients who receive them will increase.
Meanwhile, current generations of cataract patients are starting to learn that advanced technology IOLs are worth the extra bucks. UNMC Physicians has seen an uptick in the amount of patients electing for them.
“People are thinking that if they are going through surgery anyway, why walk away from it still dependent on glasses?” Kugler said. “I always present both standard and advanced technology IOL options to patients so they can decide for themselves. If a patient is not a good candidate for an advanced technology IOL, I still take the time to explain the technology and why I do not recommend it in their particular case.”
Advanced technology IOLs can be less expensive than stocking contacts or bifocals over the years. Most refractive surgeons, including Dr. Kugler, offer payment plans.
Some cataract patients see the cost of the lenses and think about the new HDTV that money could buy instead. They’ll still need extra help to see it, one way or another.