Is your vision blurry? Do colors seem faded and not as vibrant as they once did?
You could have cataracts.
Cataract symptoms vary, depending on severity, but can also include worsening night vision, sensitivity to light, and decreased depth perception.
Sometimes the first symptom is finding that your prescription eyeglasses don’t seem to be working anymore.
Approximately 25 million Americans have cataracts. Although common, there’s no reason you need to live the symptoms.
Cataracts are treatable. Learn more about cataracts, surgery for cataracts, care after cataract surgery, and the best ways to preserve your new and improved vision.
What Are Cataracts?
Just like a camera, our eyes have lenses. The lens of an eye refracts light rays to help us see. The lens should be clear so the light can bend properly and help focus an image on the retina.
The retina takes the light signal and sends a message to the brain along a neural pathway. The light signal must be clear to send a message, otherwise, the image is blurry.
A cloudy lens, called a cataract, makes it difficult to see. Like looking through a foggy windshield, things look hazy and lacking in color.
Cataracts are prevalent worldwide. In fact, by age 80 about 50% of Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
Cataract development is most commonly age-related, although smoking, having diabetes and high blood pressure, prolonged use of corticosteroids, and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light are also contributors.
Although age is the biggest risk factor, your chance of developing cataracts increases after age 40, so you don’t have to be “old” to get cataracts. In fact, many people in their 40s and 50s have mild cataracts that have not yet affected their vision.
Most people start experiencing symptoms in their 60s. Emmy award-winning actor John Goodman had cataract surgery when he was 61.
If you suspect you have cataracts, make an appointment with an Ophthalmologist. They will discuss your health and family history and conduct a series of exams to see if cataracts are the cause of your vision problems.
Health and Family History
If you have a family history of cataracts, your risk increases. Your doctor will also assess your risk based on other health factors, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Visual acuity test
A visual acuity test uses an eye chart to determine your ability to see a series of letters at different distances. The process involves covering an eye and testing one eye at a time.
A slit lamp is a microscope that uses an intense line of light, or a slit, to magnify the cornea, iris, lens, and space between. The slit lamps allow the doctor to see these eye structures up close and observe potential abnormalities.
A retinal exam is necessary for the doctor to examine the back of your eyes or the retina. Special drops are put in your eyes to make them dilate, or widen the pupils.
If a cataract is diagnosed, the doctor will discuss options with you. In mild cases, the symptoms of a cataract can be alleviated with new eyeglasses, anti-glare sunglasses, or brighter lights for tasks. If the cataract interferes with daily activities, such as driving, working, watching TV or reading, surgery is usually indicated.
What Is Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is the removal of the natural lens after it has become cloudy. An artificial lens, or intraocular cataract lens (IOL), replace the old lens and becomes a part of the eye. If you have cataracts in both eyes, the surgery is conducted on one eye at a time, usually about 4 weeks apart.
There are options when choosing an IOL, depending on your needs. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and limitations of these lenses.
This type of implant stays fixed at a specific distance, meaning your eyes can focus far away but you might need reading glasses to see up close. It’s the most common implant.
Like bifocals, this type of implant allows you to see at different distances, far away or up-close. The downside is it can take several months for your brain to adapt.
A flexible option that allows you to focus at a distance and up close. They provide a good balance and many people do not need reading glasses with this type of lens.
If you have astigmatism or a cornea that is football-shaped, you’ll need a Toric IOL. They were developed to repair both cataracts and astigmatism.
What to Expect after Surgery
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed and the success rate is very high, around 98%.
To ensure surgery is successful and your improved vision lasts, it’s important to follow proper care instructions after cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery is a straightforward, outpatient procedure and usually takes approximately 15 minutes to perform. Once complete, the doctor will place a clear shield or bandage over your eye. You’ll need someone to bring you home.
It’s best to nap for a few hours after surgery to allow the eye to rest, but most people report improved vision within hours of surgery.
The main concern after cataract surgery is an infection, so it’s important to use the prescribed antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops properly. Be sure to wash your hands and follow the directions for frequency and amount of drops closely.
In addition, taking some basic precautions can ensure your cataract surgery is successful and complication-free.
- do not rub your eyes
- do not bend at the waist or pick up heavy objects
- avoid splashing water directly into eyes
- avoid strenuous physical activity for three weeks
- avoid swimming for one week
What to Look out For
It takes a few days for your eyes to heal and it’s common to experience some uncomfortable symptoms during that time. It is normal to experience the following after cataract surgery:
- watery eyes
- double vision or blurriness
In rare cases, complications can occur, so contact your Ophthalmologist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- loss of vision or worsening of vision
- light flashes or floating spots in the eyes
- ongoing pain
- nausea and/or vomiting
- persistent coughing or sneezing
How to Protect Your New Vision
Once you have healed from surgery and are enjoying your new, healthy vision, you’ll want to be sure to protect your eyesight.
Your eyes are organs, and just like the rest of the organs in your body, it’s important to take care of them from the inside out.
Eat nutritious foods, such as a variety of fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in Vitamins C and E, lutein, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help prevent cataracts and other degenerative eye diseases.
You might not think of your eyes when you exercise, but regular exercise has been shown to improve vision and prevent cataracts. Both moderate exercise, like walking, and vigorous exercise, like running, are correlated with a decreased risk of cataracts and better vision.
Stop smoking. Smoking is linked to a range of eye diseases, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Smoking is also linked to other health factors that can harm vision, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, manage them as best you can, as both of these contribute to the development of eye diseases, including cataracts.
Wear a wide hat with a brim when outside to block ultraviolet sunlight.
Look Forward after Cataract Surgery
While cataracts are common, you do not have to live with this debilitating and degenerative eye disease. Surgery is effective and straightforward and with some basic care and attention, you can protect your eyes after cataract surgery to ensure clear, healthy vision for a long time.
Contact us to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam if you are experiencing symptoms of a cataract or your vision is not what you want it to be.