Cataract Surgery and Type 2 Diabetes
Last updated: March 2022
I was starting to feel like I was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out of the other!
After several years of tracking my eye health and vision, my ophthalmologist asked me if I thought it was time to remove my cataracts. This time I said yes. Over the past year, I had noticed my vision getting fuzzier and fuzzier. Headlights and street lights were giving off more glare. New eyeglass prescriptions didn’t correct this. One eye was noticeably more affected. And I found myself closing that eye more and more, depending only on my “good” eye when reading or doing close-up work.
So we decided it was time for cataract surgery.
Cataracts and their connection to type 2 diabetes
Cataracts develop when the proteins in the natural lens in the eye break down causing the lens to cloud up. As a result, vision becomes blurry and/or hazy and colors can become dull. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness.1
While cataracts can be caused by a trauma to the eye, they most commonly come with age. For people with diabetes, cataracts can develop earlier and progress more quickly. This is especially true if their blood glucose levels are not well managed.2
As part of the screening process leading up to scheduling my cataract surgery, my ophthalmologist checked my latest A1C results and we discussed how my blood glucose management was going. Surgery could have been delayed if he felt that my blood glucose levels were too high or not being adequately managed.
Surgery corrects cataracts by physically replacing the eye’s natural lens with an artificial one. These artificial lenses are called Intraocular Implants (IOLs).3 There are several kinds of IOLs available, so I discussed my activities and habits with my ophthalmologist so that he could choose the lens that was best for me.4 My ophthalmologist also physically measured my eye as part of deciding which IOL to use.
My cataract surgery experience
The surgery itself is very short, less than half-an-hour. But with all the prep needed and recovery time, I was at the hospital for about three hours.
Prepping for surgery started the night before with stopping all eating and drinking by midnight. In the morning, while I did check my blood glucose level, I didn’t take any of my diabetes medications.
Once I was at the hospital I laid on a gurney while the nurse checked my vitals, inserted an IV needle (as a precaution), and asked me endless questions about my health. Why was I there that day? How I was feeling? Etc. While I settled in under a warm, relaxing blanket I took deep breaths to calm my body and mind. The nurse gave me several eye drops to dilate my pupil and numb my eye.
Once in surgery, I had to lay completely still. No fidgeting. To help with this the nurses placed big, spongy wedges between me and the gurney rails. They held my body still. I also inhaled some relaxing gas, similar to what I get at the dentist, which put me in a dreamy state. A clamp held my numb eye open. And the surgical microscope was placed above my eye.
Just the idea of someone touching your eye, let alone perform surgery on it, makes most people squeamish. By the time I was rolled in for surgery I was very relaxed and calm. While I wasn’t completely out, I was in a dreamy state. Afterward, I remember seeing a light in front of my eye and not much else. I didn’t feel any sensation of my eye being touched, let alone any pain.
Recovering from cataract surgery
After surgery, I was taken to recovery where I laid on the gurney (without the wedges) and came back from my sleepy state. It was like waking up from a nap. Once fully awake, I was offered some graham crackers and water since I hadn’t eaten since the night before.
Receiving instructions for care
Once I was fully awake the nurses went over the instructions for taking care of my eye. When coming out of eye surgery it’s important to let the eye heal undisturbed and avoid infection or irritation.
The exact post-op routine will be determined by the ophthalmologist performing the surgery. I describe my particular post-op routine as a point of reference. If you have cataract surgery, your instructions may be different.
Going home with an eye patch
I came out of surgery with a plastic patch taped over my eye. That eye patch would stay on the rest of the day (except when giving myself eye drops) and I would sleep with it on for a week. The patch kept me from rubbing my eye and provided protection for anything that might irritate it.
My instructions were DON'T rub or touch my eye or get water in it. No swimming in a pool or the ocean for at least two weeks. On the day of the surgery, I could only shower from the neck down. After that, it would be okay to wash my hair and face as long as I didn’t get any soap or water in my eye.
Getting prescription eye drops
I was prescribed two kinds of eye drops. One was an antibiotic, the other an anti-inflammatory. I started by taking both four times a day, five minutes apart. After a week the antibiotic stopped. After two weeks the anti-inflammatory went down to twice a day. At four weeks I stopped taking the drops altogether.
Protecting your eyes from the sun
Soon after I got all my instructions my ride arrived and I headed home wearing the tinted goggles I use whenever my pupils get dilated. The goggles fit over the plastic eye patch taped to my face. I was glad that I remembered to bring them because my eyes were still very sensitive to the light.
Seeing quick results
I rested for the rest of the day. Once I got home I was able to take my diabetes meds, eat something, nap, and watch TV. In short order, I could tell that my vision was dramatically better. I could see clearly out of my right eye for the first time in decades without glasses.
Clear vision restored
The results of my first cataract surgery were astounding. By the next morning, I was seeing clearly out of my right eye. I found myself closing my left eye and turning my head all around so that I could see everything around me. It was like I was seeing the world for the first time.
At my next-day follow-up appointment, the ophthalmologist examined my eye and tested my vision. All indications were good. No pain. No redness. 20/20 vision in my right eye. I just needed to keep to my post-op routine for the next month, so that my eye could heal completely.
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