Because most cataracts are the result of the natural aging process, they sometimes occur simultaneously with glaucoma, which also tends to show up later in life. So, one question many patients ask is: “Can I have cataract surgery if I also have glaucoma? The answer is usually “yes.”
While there are more challenges and risks involved than if glaucoma was not present, options are available for patients who have both conditions.
What are cataracts and glaucoma?
Before we look at some of the alternatives, let’s first define cataracts and glaucoma.
A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye. It forms when proteins in the lens begin to break down and clump together, forming cloudy areas that can result in dull and blurry vision. Cataract surgery involves removing the eye’s cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the eye’s optic nerve, which is the vehicle that transmits images to the brain. Glaucoma is often linked to a buildup of fluid pressure in side the eye, known as intraocular pressure. Treatments range from medications to surgery that helps to drain the fluid.
Both conditions may not cause any symptoms early on but if left untreated they can eventually impair vision.
Treatment options for patients with cataracts and glaucoma
So what can be done for patients who develop both cataracts and glaucoma at the same time? While each individual condition is unique and must be assessed by a qualified eye doctor, there are several treatment options.
First, if a cataract is present, but does not interfere with daily activities, a doctor may choose to treat only the glaucoma, while monitoring the progression of the cataract. Just because a cataract is present doesn’t mean it must be removed. In fact, many people live with a cataract for many years before reaching the point when it interferes with daily life and needs to be removed.
Sometimes glaucoma is mild and stable, but cataracts interfere with vision. In these cases, doctors may choose to treat the glaucoma with pressure-lowering medications and/or laser treatments and perform cataract surgery to remove the cataract. In some cases where cataracts are so large that they crowd other structures in the eye, removing them can actually improve glaucoma by helping the eye’s natural drainage system and reducing intraocular pressure.
For some patients, doctors may choose to both remove the cataract and perform glaucoma surgery at the same time. Sometimes both procedures can be performed using the same incision. Combination procedures may not be right for every patient, and are often dependent on many factors such as medications being used, how advanced the cataract is and the stage of glaucoma.
Of course, like any surgery, there are risks and benefits. It’s important to discuss treatment options with a qualified eye doctor who can determine the best treatment course for each individual.
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