Cataracts are a condition where the lenses of the eyes become clouded, causing blurred vision. Like many other vision impairments, the risk of developing cataracts increases with age. This is because the protein that makes up the lens clumps together, which is what creates the cloudy matter. The cataracts may start small but can grow over time. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent blindness—cataracts are actually the leading cause of blindness around the world.
Early stages of cataracts can be helped with eyeglasses, brighter lighting, or magnifying lenses. However, the most effective way to treat advanced cataracts is surgery, whereby the patient’s clouded lens is replaced with a clean, synthetic one. More than three million cataracts surgeries are performed in the United States each year.
Cataracts surgery is one of the most frequently performed operations in the U.S.—it’s estimated that by the age of 80, more than 50% of Americans will either have a cataract or will have had cataracts surgery. But even though the process is so common, cataracts surgery can be a frightening experience to go through—imagine the feeling of someone coming at your eye with a sharp surgical tool. Fortunately, researchers have found a way to make the process a little easier. A study on the connection between audio therapy and cataracts has discovered that music can provide relief for patients during surgical treatment.
The method of audio therapy—using music for healing purposes—used in this study was “binaural beats.” In this process, headphones deliver two tones at slightly different frequencies to each ear. So, one ear hears one frequency, while the other ear hears the second one. Because cataracts surgery works on the eye, the procedure causes many patients to feel worried and anxious. This form of audio therapy stimulates brainwaves that signal feelings of relaxation, while reducing feelings of fear and pain.
It also doesn’t help that cataracts surgery is done while the patient is awake, having only received a local anesthetic. Because you’re conscious, you can hear everything that’s going on, like doctors and nurses discussing your condition, and the sound of frightening surgical tools. You can imagine how useful it would be to have soothing music to distract you.
In this study, researchers combined the binaural beats with soothing rhythms and sounds from nature that patients would be familiar with. According to researchers, patients who received audio therapy before, during, and after their surgery for cataracts were less anxious, had a more moderate heart rate, and saw a greater reduction in blood pressure. This promising news is music to our ears.
“Common Eye Disorders,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basic_information/eye_disorders.htm, last accessed May 23, 2013
“Facts About Cataract,” National Eye Institute web site; https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.asp#4a, last accessed May 23, 2013
“Soothing sounds during cataract surgery reduces patient anxiety,” American Academy of Ophthalmology web site; https://www.aao.org/newsroom/release/20121112b.cfm, last accessed May 23, 2013