Our eyes have a natural lens that bends (refracts) light rays entering the eye to help us see clearly. The eye’s lens is primarily made up of water and protein. As we age, these proteins can start to clump together and cloud a small part of the lens. This cloudy area is a cataract, which will likely grow larger and cloud more of the lens over time – causing increased vision loss.
The cloudy lens caused by a cataract prevents light from passing through, and can cause vision changes, including the following:
Cataracts can affect one eye or both. You might not realize you have a cataract, because it grows very slowly. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor to check for cataracts.
The most common cause of cataracts is aging. After age 40, normal age-related eye changes start to happen. Nationwide, about one quarter of Americans aged 45-64 currently have at least the beginnings of cataracts. By age 80, nearly 70% of all Americans will have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. Doctors cannot predict how quickly a person’s cataract will develop.
While advancing age is the most common cause of cataracts, the following factors can also increase your risk for the onset of cataracts:
Cataracts can be diagnosed by your eye doctor during a routine, dilated eye exam. You may also have your vision checked in different lighting conditions and with an updated eyeglass prescription. While invasive testing is not required to diagnose a cataract, a complete eye exam is necessary to determine if anything else is contributing to your symptoms.
Because cataracts grow so slowly, some people don’t do anything when they first notice they are losing their ability to see clearly, and many people consider poor vision just an inevitable fact of aging. However, getting examined as soon possible provides the greatest chance of protecting and restoring vision.
While cataract-related vision loss cannot be corrected with glasses, some people with early-stage cataracts find their vision problems may be temporarily helped by changing their prescription, adding magnifying lenses, or using brighter lights.
You also may be able to slow down the development of cataracts by protecting your eyes from sunlight – wearing sunglasses that block 100% of the sun’s UV rays, and regular eyeglasses that have a clear, anti-UV coating. However, if and when these steps do not improve vision, surgery becomes the top consideration.
A cataract should not be removed simply because it is present. Many people have cataracts that don’t cause blurred vision, interfere with activities of daily living, or prevent them from leading active lives.
When the cataract has become severe enough that it affects your quality of life, however, you and your eye doctor can discuss the appropriate time to remove it. Surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.
Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most frequently performed surgeries. More than three million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. every year, with the vast majority of these procedures producing excellent visual outcomes.
Cataract surgery is a simple, relatively painless procedure. During surgery, the surgeon will remove your clouded lens and, in most cases, replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL) – restoring vision loss due to cataracts, and often reducing dependence on eyeglasses as well.
Most cataract procedures involve the use of a high-frequency ultrasound device that breaks up the cloudy lens into small pieces, which are then gently removed from the eye with suction. After all remnants of the cloudy lens have been removed from your eye, the cataract surgeon inserts the IOL, positioning it securely behind the iris and pupil, in the same location your natural lens occupied.
Typically, this lens lasts for a lifetime. About 95 percent of people report improved vision after the surgery, with many patients reporting clear vision within just hours after surgery. But each person heals differently, and you may need as long as a week or two before you see images in their sharpest focus again.
If you have questions about your eyes or your vision, visit your eye care professional. Annual eye exams for everyone in the family should be part of your routine health care planning. Many eye diseases can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.
We value our long-term family relationships and are proud of our satisfied patient testimonials. Contact us to have an Eye Associates professional take care of your eye health!