A cataract is formed when the natural lens of our eye becomes cloudy or opaque. The human eye contains a natural lens which provides much of the “power” that allows us to see clearly and focus on the things we see. Over time, this natural lens begins to lose its clarity, which in turn can affect your overall vision. I like to use the analogy of trying to see through a dirty or hazy windshield. The best way to know you have cataracts is by having your routine comprehensive eye exam.
Cataracts are normally caused by age-related changes, however there are several other factors that can also contribute to cataract development. These factors can include but are not limited to UV light exposure, diabetes, injury, and certain medications, namely corticosteroids. Several studies also indicate that smoking increases the risk of developing cataracts.
Cataracts can begin forming between ages 40-50, however it should be noted that in many cases, cataracts will not start impacting vision until age 60 or older. Although these figures give us a rough measure of the typical expectancy of cataract formation, it’s important to remember that they are just that, an estimate. There are many variables that affect cataracts as we will discuss next.
Symptoms of cataracts range from very subtle to debilitating vision changes. Early to moderate cataracts typically impact visual clarity and vividness of colors. Cataracts can also cause increased sensitivity to light, often times in the form of glare. As a result, a common complaint will be difficulty driving, especially at night. As cataracts progress (usually gradually with age), these symptoms become more pronounced.The following is a short list of common cataract symptoms:
Cataract treatment is based on the severity of the cataract. If a cataract has not significantly affected your vision yet, then the only measure you need to take is to have your routine annual eye examinations to monitor for progression. Many times, an updated eyeglass prescription can help improve your vision. Other options include having a good light source while reading and anti-glare sunglasses or coatings.
Once these options can no longer help, and a cataract has begun to affect your lifestyle and everyday activities such as driving, reading, and watching television, the cataract needs to be replaced by cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery involves replacing the cloudy natural lens with a clear artificial lens referred to as an intraocular lens. One advantage of having an intraocular lens implant, is that your cataract surgeon will consult with you to figure out the lens that will best suit your needs prior to surgery.
In today’s ever-advancing world of medicine, there are several exciting advances with cataract surgery. Many more surgeons are implementing the use of laser-assisted cataract surgery (LenSx) for improved accuracy and ease. The newest technology involves using a device (intraoperative wavefront aberrometry) that helps the surgeon take live measurements to more accurately measure the appropriate lens power during surgery.
As with any component of your health, regular check-ups for early detection is always the best strategy. The National Institute of Health recommends that if you are 60 or older, you should have a dilated exam at least once every two years.
Although one cannot completely prevent cataracts, it is important to remember to wear UV-blocking glasses and consider a hat when outside to reduce exposure to sunlight. Researchers also recommend upping your intake of leafy green vegetables and antioxidant vitamins.