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Cataract Surgery Seen As Low-Risk Procedure

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RALEIGH, N.C. — As some people get older, they tend to develop cataracts. Health experts said cataracts are the No. 1 cause of blindness in the United States. While surgery can restore vision, some people choose to live in the dark instead of facing surgery. Doctors are working to ease patients' concerns about the procedure.

Wendell resident Ellen Machacek will soon be able to see again. She is having surgery at Rex Hospital to remove a cataract from her eye.

Cataracts happen when the lens of the eye gets cloudy and blocks light from getting through, causing blindness. The surgery is the most common operation in the United States. Done on an outpatient basis, health experts said it is considered low risk.

Dr. Patricia Smith said many people still think it is a long, painful process.

"All they can remember is Grandma with the sand bags by her head. It's not like that," she said.

During the procedure, Smith numbs the eye area and makes two small incisions. Using an ultrasound probe, she chops up the cataract into tiny pieces then vacuums them out. Smith then puts in a lens implant to replace the cloudy lens. The incisions are so small most patients do not need stitches.

"If you construct it properly, then it self-heals," Smith said. "Studies show it's actually stronger than a sutured wound."

Other than a protective shield on her eye, one can hardly tell Machacek just had surgery. She said she cannot wait to do all the things that cataracts took away.

"I stopped driving. You just can't see. I couldn't read road signs," Machacek said. "Mentally, it's really tough. It's real tough when you think you're not going to have your vision."

Machacek was more at risk for cataracts because she has diabetes. The No. 1 risk factor is genetics. There is also some evidence that avoiding the sun and taking multivitamins with antioxidants may reduce the risk.


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