Cataracts are the clouds that form in the lens of the eye. Knowing what a cataract is, the types and treatments can help you to avoid vision loss and even blindness. If you suspect you may be suffering from cataracts, it’s essential to get correctly diagnosed and treated to save your vision.
The National Eye Institute has forecasted that by 2050, the number of people with cataracts is set to double from 24.4 million to about 50 million.
What is a Cataract?
Part of the eye is called a lens, and it is made up of water and protein. As we age, these proteins can group to create a cloud over parts of the lens. This cloud is called a cataract.
The progression of cataract occurs over time. Even when detected, your Ophthalmologist or Optometrist may tell you it isn’t ripe enough for treatment. However, you should never leave cataract untreated. Without treatment, cataracts can cause loss of vision and blindness.
While cataracts are mostly diagnosed in older adults, sometimes children have them from birth. Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes, but can’t be spread from one to the other. Most people have cataracts or have had cataract surgery by age 80.
What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?
Of the typical symptoms, it is essential to look out for any of these:
- seeing colors as faded
- increased sensitivity to bright lights or glare
- blurry vision
- difficulty seeing at night
- a glow or halo around lights
- double vision in the affected eye
- a noticeable rapid deterioration of eyesight that requires frequent changes in prescription.
How are Cataracts Diagnosed?
A doctor will do a comprehensive eye exam to check for cataracts and to assess your vision. This exam will include an eye chart test to check your eyesight at different distances and tonometry to measure your eye pressure. The most prevalent tonometry test uses a painless puff of air that will flatten your cornea to test your eye pressure.
Your pupils will be dilated your eyes by putting a couple of drops of a solution in them. Once the pupil of your eye widens, the doctor can then check for cataracts or other ailments.
What Causes Cataracts?
Cataracts have a few causes. Some of the primary reasons include eye trauma, smoking, certain medications over time, radiation therapy, or overproduction of oxidants. However, the primary cause of cataracts is the build-up proteins in the lens of the eye or eyes that occurs in aging adults.
Who is at Risk for Cataract?
As you get older, your risk for cataract goes up. You may also be at higher risk if you:
- Have specific health problems, like diabetes
- Are a Smoker
- Consume too much alcohol
- Family members have had cataracts
- Have had an eye injury, eye operation, or radiation treatment on your upper body
- Spend a lot of time in the sun
- Take medicines like steroids (used to treat several health issues, like arthritis and rashes)
Types of Cataracts
Cataracts are categorized based on where and how they develop in the eye. There are several kinds, but the three primary types of age-related cataracts are nuclear sclerotic, cortical, and posterior subcapsular.
Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts
This the more common type of age-related cataract. Its primary cause is the hardening and yellowing of the lens over time. It is referred to as “Nuclear” due to the centrally located clouding on the lens called the nucleus. The hardening of the lens is called “Sclerosis.”
During the progression of this type of cataract, many changes in vision occur. Some of these include the ability to focus, near or close vision (used for reading and other forms of close-up work). The first symptoms usually are nearsightedness and even temporary improvement in eyesight from a reading distance.
Nuclear Sclerotic cataracts progress very slowly and take many years in most cases before they impair vision in any way.
The Cortical cataract is diagnosed when white opacities or clouds appear on the peripheral edge of the lens’ cortex (edge). The water content changes creating clefts or fissures that look like the spokes of the wheel point from the outside edge of the lens inwards toward the center.
When light enters the eye, the fissures cause it to spread. This cataract condition has symptoms of blurred vision, contrast, depth perception, and glare.
Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts
The Posterior Subcapsular cataract begins as a small opaque or cloudy area on the “posterior,” or backside of the lens. It forms under or beneath the glass, the “sac” or membrane that encloses the lens and keeps it in place. This positioning gives it the “subcapsular” name, as well.
Subcapsular cataracts can prevent you from being able to read and create “halo” or “glow” effects of glare around lights. At risk for this type of cataract include steroid users and diabetics. If you suffer vision impairments like being extremely nearsighted or have retinitis pigmentosa, you may also at risk. Subcapsular cataracts can develop very quickly, and symptoms can become noticeable within months.
Treatment Options for Cataracts
Once your doctor diagnoses that you have a cataract in one or both eyes, initial treatment comes in the form of suggested lifestyle changes. These are things you can do on your own that may improve your vision and manage your cataracts. Examples are:
- You should use brighter lights at home or work
- Wearing anti-glare sunglasses will help the strain on the eyes.
- When reading use magnifying lenses in addition to other activities
You may also get new prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses that will help you see better in the early phases of cataracts. Your doctor may suggest follow-up visits to monitor the progression, as well.
Finally, if cataracts have interfered with your quality of life, hindering your day to day activities, your doctor will suggest surgery.
During cataract surgery, the doctor removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a new one. These artificial lenses are called intraocular lens or IOL. This surgery is very safe, and most people see better after having it.
Another surgical method is known as phacoemulsification. It involves the use of ultrasound waves that break the lens apart, and then the pieces are removed.
After Cataract Surgery
After cataract surgery, your vision will begin to improve. As your eye heals and adjusts, your vision may be blurry. Colors may seem brighter because you are looking through a new, clear lens. A cataract causes your lens to be yellow- or brown-tinted before surgery, and that mutes the look of colors.
A day or two after your surgery, you will have a follow-up visit with your eye doctor, another in the following week, and then again after a month to monitor healing. Your eye may feel itchy, or you may experience mild discomfort for a couple of days after surgery. You should avoid rubbing or pushing on your eye.
Your doctor may ask you to wear an eye patch, a protective shield, or sunglasses on the day of surgery. After your surgery, your doctor may also recommend wearing the eye patch for a few days and the protective shield when you sleep.
Most of the discomfort should disappear within a few days. Usually, within eight weeks, complete healing occurs.
Risks of Blindness from Cataracts
Getting treatment is a priority when you notice changes in your vision or any of the symptoms associated with cataracts. Although with proper treatment, it is rare, the World Health Organization has reported that cataracts cause 51 % of blindness around the world. Treatment is essential.
Can Cataracts be Prevented?
Although there has been a notable debate on whether cataracts can be prevented, several studies suggest certain nutrients and nutritional supplements may decrease the risk of cataracts.
Besides, doctors suggest that there a few things you can do to protect your eyes that may help prevent or delay the onset of cataracts.
- Wear sunglasses
- Wear hats that have a brim that blocks out the sun
- Quit Smoking
- Eat healthy foods – Drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruit and vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens.
- Get an eye exam every two years if you’re sixty years old or older.
Advances in Cataract Treatments
The sooner you know what the treatment options are after your diagnosis, the better the outcomes can be. The good news there are have been many advances in treatment and even the lenses used. Your doctor can explain all the options so you can decide what is the best one for you.
The amount of pain and inflammation a patient experiences after undergoing cataract surgery can be limited through the use of medication, better surgical techniques, and new technologies.
Have a Comprehensive Eye Exam
If you suspect you may have a cataract, the doctors at Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor & Haun can help. They are your first step and can explain what is a cataract and your options once they confirm your diagnosis through a comprehensive eye exam. For an appointment, contact us.