Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 45.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye which is normally transparent. The lens, located inside the eye, behind the iris (colored part of the eye) and the pupil, focuses light onto the retina at the back of your eye. This is converted to nerve signals that are passed to the brain, allowing you to see. When your lens becomes cloudy, the images projected onto your retina become blurry and unfocused and therefore the signal to the brain is also unclear. You can compare this to looking through a dirty or cloudy window. This leads to glare and problems with night driving, as well as, difficulty reading.
While the majority of cataracts are a result of the aging process, there are also congenital cataracts that are present at birth, secondary cataracts that result from eye surgery or diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes and traumatic cataracts that result at any age from an injury to the eye.
While you may be able to live with mild or moderate cataracts, severe cataracts are treated with surgery. The procedure involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) implant. Cataract surgery is a common procedure that has a very high success rate of restoring vision. Modern cataract surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Patients will have greatly improved vision the next day, and will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Surgery is done in one eye first, and surgery on the second eye, if needed, may be done 2 to 4 weeks later.
Cataracts don’t suddenly develop overnight. The first symptom is usually that your vision becomes blurred, hazy or cloudy. Additionally, you may become sensitive to light, making sunlight, oncoming headlights or indoor lighting appear exceptionally glaring or bright. Colors may seem dim and you may notice halos around lights or double vision. The symptoms people experience from cataracts may vary. Some individuals even report a temporary improvement in near vision when a cataract first develops, a phenomenon known as “second sight”.
Here is a list of possible signs and symptoms of developing cataracts:
Blurry or cloudy vision (that can’t be corrected with a change in eyeglass prescription)
Glare from lamps, sunlight, oncoming traffic when driving at night or indoor lighting
Colors appear dim and less vibrant
Halos around lights
Poor night vision
Sudden improvement in near vision
If you experience any change in your vision, visit your eye doctor immediately.
Causes of Cataracts
Cataracts are part of the natural aging process of the eye and therefore, if you live to an old age, you will likely eventually develop them. While most cases of cataracts develop as part of this process, there are instances of congenital cataracts which are present at birth. Further, secondary or traumatic cataracts can occur at any age as a result of an eye injury, surgery or disease. While the risk of developing a cataract does increase as you age, it is not the only risk factor. Research shows that there are environmental, health and behavioral risk factors that can also play a role in cataract development. Many of these risk factors are avoidable and preventable. These risk factors include:
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or other sources
Certain medications such as steroids or statin medications
History of eye injury or eye surgery
While development of cataracts is largely associated with age, there are other factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition. By knowing these risk factors, there are steps you can take to delay or prevent the development of cataracts:
Sun Protection: Ultraviolet radiation can be a factor in the development of cataracts. It is recommended to protect your eyes from ultraviolet sunlight by wearing 100% UV protective sunglasses and a hat with a brim when you are exposed to the sun.
Stop Smoking and Limit Alcohol Intake: These habits have been shown to increase the chances of developing cataracts, so if you smoke or regularly consume large amounts of alcohol – stop these habits.
Proper Nutrition: Research shows that maintaining good health and nutrition can also reduce the risk of age-related cataracts, particularly by eating foods rich with vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E and other antioxidants found in green leafy vegetables, fruit and a diet rich in Omega-3s.
Regular Eye Exams: Once you reach the age of 65, or if you have diabetes or other eye conditions, it is important to have a comprehensive eye exam every year to check for signs of cataracts and other age-related eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma. Early detection and treatment for many of these eye and vision disorders is often essential to save your vision.
Cataract Surgery & Treatment
Prescriptions, lens treatments and surgery are all options you can explore. Treatment for cataracts involves surgery, but being diagnosed with a cataract does not mean that you need to have surgery immediately, or maybe ever. You may be able to live with symptoms of early cataracts for a while by using vision aids such as glasses, anti-glare sunglasses, magnification lenses, strong bifocals or brighter lighting to suit your needs. Surgery should be considered when the condition begins to seriously impair your vision to the extent that it affects your daily life such as reading or driving, playing golf, playing cards, watching TV, etc. Sometimes surgery is also necessary if the cataracts are preventing treatment of another eye problem. The good news is that cataract surgery is typically very successful in restoring your vision. Together with your eye doctor, you will decide if and when the time for surgery has arrived. Cataract surgery is one of most common surgeries performed in North America. The surgery involves removing the clouded natural lens and usually replacing it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL) that becomes a permanent part of the eye. It is a relatively quick and painless procedure and you will not feel or see the IOL after the implant. In addition, many people are actually less dependent on glasses after the surgery, as the majority of their glasses prescription can be incorporated into the IOL.