A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye that typically occurs with age. It is still the leading cause of blindness in the world and represents an important cause of visual impairment in the United States. Cataracts can be compared to a window that is frosted or fogged with steam and results in blurred vision. Catarats occur inside the eye and not on the surface of the eye; and, they can develop in one or both eyes. Also, there are various different types of cataracts. While the progression of cataracts is highly variable, they will invariably worsen over time. When vision loss due to cataracts affects a person’s ability to do the tasks they want to do or need to do, cataract surgery becomes necessary. Over 2.5 million people a year have cataract surgery in the United States making it the most common surgery performed.
What are the symptoms of a cataract?
Cataracts cause a progressive, painless, blurring of vision. Some indications that a cataract may be forming are:
- Glare or light sensitivity
- Frequent eyeglass prescription changes
- Double vision in one eye
- Needing brighter light to read
- Poor night vision with halos and starbursts
- Fading or yellowing of colors
The amount and pattern of cloudiness within the lens can vary. If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that a cataract is present.
What causes a cataract?
The most common cause of a cataract is related to aging of the eye, however other causes of cataracts include:
- Family History
- Medical problems, such as diabetes
- Injury to the eye
- Medications, such as steroids
- Previous eye surgery
How do cataracts progress?
How quickly the cataract develops varies among individuals, and may vary even between the two eyes. Most cataracts associated with aging progress gradually over a period of several years.
Other cataracts, especially in younger people and people with diabetes, may progress rapidly over a few months. It is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will develop in any given person.
How is a cataract detected?
A thorough eye examination by your ophthalmologist or optometrist can detect the presence and extent of a cataract. There may be other reasons for visual loss in addition to the cataract. If these problems are present, perfect vision may not return after cataract removal.
If such conditions are severe, removal of the cataract may not result in any improvement in vision.
How do you treat cataracts?
Surgery is the only way your ophthalmologist can remove the cataract. However, if symptoms from a cataract are mild, a change of glasses may be all that is needed for you to function more comfortably.
There are no medications, dietary supplements, exercises or optical devices that have been proven to prevent or cure cataracts.
What can I expect from Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure done with topical (eye drops, no injection) anesthesia in which the cloudy lens is removed from the eye. The clarity of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens implant. Your ophthalmologist performs this delicate surgery using a microscope, miniature instruments and other modern technology. Usually there are no injections, no stitches, and no patches. Cataracts NEVER come back following cataract surgery. Also, the intraocular lens implants used will permanently stay clear and should never have to be replaced.
The entire surgery usually takes less than 10 minutes to perform. Recovery is usually very rapid and most patients can return to nearly all activities shortly after surgery. Cataract surgery is a highly successful procedure. However, it is important to understand that complications are very rare, but can occur during or after the surgery.
When should surgery be done?
Cataract surgery should be considered when cataracts cause enough loss of vision to interfere with your job or your daily activities and hobbies. Many people elect to have cataract surgery when they need better vision to get a driver’s license or if changing their glasses will not improve their vision. It is not true that cataract surgery has to be delayed until cataracts are “ripe”. Also, just because a cataract is present does not mean that cataract surgery needs to be done.