Advances in eye care give visual artist new focus


As a fine artist, Audrey Robitaille has an appreciation for the beauty of nature. Now retired, the Quebec resident loves to spend her time reading and playing bridge with friends. She first noticed something was amiss when her vision started to become clouded.

“Over time, my vision became blurry and I had difficulty seeing, especially at night,” she recalls. “I noticed it most when I was playing my favourite game of bridge. It was especially hard, because I was used to having eagle eye vision to enjoy my hobbies.”

A visit to her eye care professional determined that she had cataracts, a common eye condition generally among aging adults.

It is one of two most common eye conditions that occur as people age, according to Dr. Kathy Cao, an ophthalmologist with the University of Toronto and Kensington Eye Institute.

“I tell my patients that as we age, it’s normal to develop presbyopia and cataracts, and it can make daily tasks challenging to fulfill,” says Dr. Cao. “Regular eye exams and talking to your eye care professional are important to finding the right solution.”

Presbyopia is a gradual loss in the eye’s ability to pull the lens into shape, affecting the ability to focus on close objects.

It typically impacts people around the age of 40. As a result, they often start to depend on reading glasses or other corrective measures to see up close, whether it’s for reading a menu or smartphone.

Cataracts manifest most often around age 60. “A cataract is the clouding of the lens in your eye, caused from protein buildup over time,” says Cao. “For those who have them, vision becomes increasingly blurry, making it challenging to see.”

Symptoms beyond blurred vision include a sensitivity to brightness, double vision or a halo effect seen around lights. In addition, while aging is the leading factor, the risk of cataracts may accelerate due to UV exposure, smoking, health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, and medications like steroids.

If left untreated, cataracts can cause blindness, and are one of the leading causes of vision loss. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 18 million people worldwide are bilaterally blind due to cataracts, accounting for almost half of all global cases of blindness.

At one time, there was a belief that cataracts had to be significant enough to warrant surgical intervention.

“That’s a common misconception,” Dr. Cao says. “As soon as cataracts start to impact driving, work and other daily activities, I recommend having a full assessment with an eye care professional and talking about your vision goals. If cataracts are impacting vision, surgery is recommended.”

“Most patients have heard about cataracts, but very few know much about the condition,” Dr. Cao explains. “Even fewer know that surgery is the only treatment option.”

According to a recent survey of over 1,500 people about the perceptions and awareness of cataracts and vision health among Canadians between the ages of 55 to 79, over half of Canadians do not know much about cataracts and cataract surgery, and 59 per cent are unaware that there are options to treat cataracts and other vision conditions at the same time. (See sidebar.) This is particularly concerning as cataracts affect 2.5 million Canadians every year and are one of the leading causes of blindness and low vision in age-related eye diseases.

Dr. Cao says it is important to educate patients about cataract surgery to eliminate fear – cited by half of the survey respondents as a concern. As well, 28 per cent said they had limited understanding of the procedure.

“We often hear from patients that they are worried or nervous about cataract surgery,” says Dr. Cao. “While every surgery should be carefully considered, cataract surgery is generally safe and done on an outpatient basis, which means patients go home. They often start to notice vision improvements within a couple of days and may return to regular life activities shortly after.”

Before having cataract surgery, it’s important that patients have informed conversations with their eye care professionals about their vision goals after surgery.

There are a variety of different cataract lens replacement options that can treat multiple eye conditions, like presbyopia, at once. Choosing the right lens could mean seeing the world in vivid colour or not having to wear reading glasses.

For years, cataract replacement lens options were limited. A monofocal lens was often standard, but only corrects distance vision.

Now patients have the option of trifocal lenses providing superior vision at multiple distances so that they can see everything near, far and in-between.

“If patients choose trifocal lenses, it helps to minimize dependency on glasses, which is very appealing to those who live active and busy lifestyles and appreciate colour and detail,” says Dr. Cao. “Trifocal lenses are the newest and the most exciting type of lens, with one of the key benefits being able to see clearly at an intermediate distance.”

Tom Chadwick

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