If you’ve ever listened to or been a part of conversations about aging and eyesight, you’ve probably heard the word “cataracts”. They are a common eye condition to have as people age. But what are cataracts, and what can be done about them? We’ve listed some common questions about cataracts and what you need to know about them.
What Are Cataracts?
A cataract is an opaque or cloudy area in the lens of the eye, which is normally clear. The lens of the eye is behind the iris, the colored part of the eye, and centered at the pupil opening.. It focuses incoming light on the retina, which sends the image to the brain via the optic nerve, where the image is interpreted into your knowledge of your environment. As your body ages, your eye lenses get thicker, less flexible and less transparent. This is when cataracts can potentially begin to form, as eye tissues begin to change and clump together. These tissue obstructions impede the process of directing light and images to your brain, causing the eye to be unable to process that light and focus properly. This leads to vision problems and increasingly impaired everyday eyesight.
What Are the Different Types of Cataracts?
There are several different kinds of cataracts that you can develop:
- Nuclear cataract: Develops in the center of the lens of the eye
- Cortical cataract: Develops in the layer of the lens outside the nucleus and usually looks like a spoke or wedge if inspected closely
- Posterior capsular cataract: Develops in the back, outer layer of the lens, and usually develops more quickly than either of the other two kinds
- Congenital cataracts: These are cataracts that some people are born with or develop at a young age as a result of genetics, neonatal diseases or pre-birth trauma.
What Causes Cataracts? What Are Some Risk Factors?
The majority risk of cataracts are caused by changes in the eye due to age. However, they are known to occasionally form in babies and young children. Other causes and risk factors exist, however, such as:
- Previous eye conditions or surgeries
- Eye medications, such as corticosteroids and chlorpromazine
- Having diabetes
- History of smoking or excessive alcohol use
- Excessive exposure to sunlight / UV light
- Poor nutrition, hypertension and obesity
What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?
Cataracts usually develop slowly over time, especially past the age of 55. You may not even realize that they are forming. However, there are several symptoms that could point to their development within your eyes. These include:
- Having a harder time seeing or focusing
- Colors beginning to seem dimmer
- Experiencing double vision in one eye
- Needing brighter lighting to see well
- Starting to see “halos” around lights
- Increased sensitivity to light and glare
- Difficulty with night vision
- Frequent eyeglass prescription changes
How Can I Delay or Prevent Cataracts?
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to delay or prevent the onset of cataracts.
- See your eye doctor for a regular eye exam
- Maintain an overall healthy lifestyle
- Eat a nutritious and healthy diet with plenty of vitamins (i.e. vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids), minerals and antioxidants
- Wear protective eyewear, such as uv-blocking sunglasses while outdoors or safety goggles when working with your hands
- Avoid risky lifestyle behaviors, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Manage any other health problems, such as diabetes and other chronic conditions
- Follow your doctor’s orders closely after receiving treatment for a different eye condition
What Does Cataract Surgery Involve?
Cataract surgery is based on how much your clouded lens has affected your vision. For some people, the condition is not serious enough to need surgery. They may just need a change in eyeglass prescription. However, if the cataract impairs your vision enough to significantly impede your ability to live normally, two approaches can be considered: small-incision cataract surgery or extracapsular surgery.
- Small-incision cataract surgery: Involves making an incision in the cornea and using an ultrasonic wave-producing device to break the lens into pieces and suction it out.
- Extracapsular surgery: This is rarely performed nowadays but sometimes necessary for very dense cataracts. It involves extracting the affected lens in one piece and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL), a man-made replacement lens. If inserting an IOL is not feasible because of other eye problems, special contact lenses or eyeglasses can be used instead.
Laser-assisted cataract surgery is the most recent advancement now available as it helps to treat both the cataract and astigmatism so patients are less dependant upon glasses afterwards. It is used in combination with small-incision surgery and has allowed for improved results over conventional methods.
Is Cataract Surgery Safe?
Cataract eye surgery is a safe and effective surgery, with well over 90 percent of patients reporting better vision afterwards.
Cataracts can be a significant source of annoyance and obstruction from your normal lifestyle. However, they don’t have to be. If you have any other questions about eye care or eye health or would like to set up an appointment, contact us at Piedmont Eye Center today!