Cataracts are a common condition affecting both men and women. They are more common with advancing age, though some develop as a result of inherited genetic disorders. If you experience changes in your vision and have symptoms of a cataract, contact your eye doctor and schedule an appointment for an eye exam. If you experience sudden vision changes such as double vision or blurriness, contact your doctor immediately.
Cataracts develop as a clouding that appears on the lens of the eye. Individuals who suffer from cataracts report having cloudy vision that can be compared to looking through a foggy window. Cataracts make it difficult to see things clearly, and can interfere with normal activities such as reading, driving or making out facial expressions. Cataracts are mild when they first develop; however, they worsen over time and will eventually create disturbances in vision. Cataract surgery may be required to treat cataracts that affect vision and interfere with everyday activities.
Cloudy vision is the most common symptom of a cataract and may start out in one small area of the eye. As the cataract enlarges, a larger area of vision will be affected. When this occurs, additional symptoms may develop, such as:
- Dim vision
- Impaired night vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- Color fading
- Double vision in one eye
Cataracts are a common occurrence with aging. They can also develop as a result of an injury to the eye which results in a change in the tissue of the lens. Cataracts form on the lens of the eye. The lens is located behind the iris (the colored part of the eye). When a cataract forms, the light that normally reflects form the lens is scattered, which prevents a clear image from reaching the retina. This results in blurred vision. With aging, the lens becomes thicker and less flexible. This causes the tissues to break down, which causes small parts of the lens to become cloudy. The cloudiness increases as the cataract grows and encompasses a larger area.
There are certain risk factors that increase your chance of developing cataracts. Common risk factors include:
- Advancing age
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive sunlight exposure
- Excessive exposure to x-rays
- Family history of cataracts
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye injury or surgery
- Prolonged use of corticosteroids
Your doctor will perform a basic eye exam to determine if you have cataracts. There are several steps in the eye exam process, including:
- Visual acuity test (eye chart). This test helps the doctor measure how well you perform on an eye chart exam. It helps determine if you can read a series of letters and numbers and from what distance you can do so without vision becoming blurred. Each eye is tested separately. One eye is covered while the other does the reading. This will alert your doctor to any vision impairments that you have.
- Slit-lamp examination. A slit-lamp examination relies on the use of a light and magnification to examine the eye. The slit-lamp is a microscope that relied on the use of intense light to illuminate the cornea, iris, lens and the spaces in-between. It allows the doctor to examine the structures of the eye in tiny sections using magnification, making it easier to diagnose tiny abnormalities that may exist.
- Retinal examination. A retinal examination allows the doctor to examine the retina at the back of the eye. Dilating eye drops are first administered, which makes it easier for the doctor to see clearly to the back of the eye. The dilation and the use of an opthalmoscope allow your doctor to examine the lens and look for cataracts.
Surgery is currently the only effective treatment for cataracts. The decision to have cataract surgery should be based on the severity of your cataracts and whether or not they are hindering your daily activities. Many eye doctors recommend cataract surgery if your cataracts are interfering with your day to day activities and affecting your quality of life.
During cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with a plastic implant that becomes a part of the eye. If cataracts are present in both eyes, two separate surgical procedures will be required several weeks apart, as only one eye will be worked on at a time. Surgery is performed as an out-patient procedure, and no hospital stay is required.
Local anesthesia will be used to numb the eye area and you will remain awake during the procedure. There is a risk of infection and bleeding with cataract surgery, as well as an increased risk of retinal detachment.
Because cataracts are not harmful to the eye, many individuals chose to delay surgery if their condition is not inhibiting their daily activities. Individuals should consider the benefits and risks of cataract surgery in order to decide if surgery is the right choice. Individuals who decide against cataract surgery will likely need to make frequent visits to their eye doctor to monitor their condition.
Individuals who opt not to have surgery can treat their cataract symptoms with simple home remedies, such as:
- Using only accurate prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses
- Using a magnifying glass to read
- Adding brighter lights or lamps to the home
- Wearing sunglasses during the day when outside or driving
- Wearing wide-brimmed hats when out in the sun
- Keeping night driving to a minimum
Although doctors are not certain what causes cataracts to develop, there are some steps that they believe may be helpful in preventing them from occurring. Possible prevention techniques include:
- Having regular eye exams to help detect cataracts and other eye problems as soon as they develop
- Refraining from smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a well-balanced diet that consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Getting an adequate amount of physical activity and exercise
Although most cataracts are associated with aging, some people are born with them. Though rare, they can also develop during childhood. This may be due to an infection that was present in the mother during pregnancy or as a result of certain inherited conditions. These cataracts generally do not interfere with vision, however, surgery may eventually be required if they do.