Cataracts 101: Cause, Symptoms and Suggested Management
What are cataracts? Consider this your guide to cataracts, including the causes, symptoms, and treatments available.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is the clouding of the clear lens of your eye, making it more difficult to see. This condition can make you feel as if you’re staring through a foggy window. It’s common in older adults; over 50% of Americans age 80 and older have had cataracts.
Cataracts develop slowly, and you may not notice any differences in your vision at first. This condition can affect your ability to read, drive, or even see someone’s facial expressions.
What Causes Cataracts?
The usual causes of cataracts are aging or injury, causing changes to the tissue in the eye’s lens. There are other potential causes for cataracts, including:
- Other eye conditions
- Past eye surgery
- Long-term steroid medications
- UV ray exposure
- Family history
Cataracts form when protein builds up in your eye’s lens. This build-up can create small, clouded areas in the lens. As a cataract progresses, this clouding grows, becoming larger and thicker with time.
A cataract blocks light when it enters the lens, preventing sharp images from reaching the retina, causing blurry vision. Cataracts commonly form in both eyes, but one may be more cloudy than the other.
There are several types of cataracts you can develop.
Types of Cataracts
Most cataracts are age-related, occurring because of natural changes as you get older. Other types of cataracts develop for different reasons.
Generally, there are 5 main types of cataracts:
- Age-related cataracts
- Traumatic cataracts
- Radiation cataracts
- Pediatric cataracts
- Secondary cataracts
Age-related cataracts are the most common form of this condition. They naturally occur with age, clouding the lens of the eye and reducing vision.
Eye injuries can damage your lens, causing a cataract to develop. It may form quickly or many years later.
Radiation can cause cataract development. While not all types of radiation will, UV rays from the sun and radiation treatment for cancer may lead to a cataract.
Children can have cataracts from birth or develop them later in life. This type of cataract is rare and typically genetic. Other reasons a child may develop a cataract include eye injuries, radiation, steroid medications, or complications during pregnancy.
After receiving cataract surgery, some people may develop what is called secondary cataracts. It causes your vision to become cloudy again, but it isn’t technically a cataract. This condition occurs because of cloudiness on the outside of the lens, not the inside like with a cataract.
All forms of cataracts cloud your vision, making everyday tasks more difficult. No matter the cause of your cataract, many have the same symptoms.
Cataract symptoms may be hard to notice at first. You may only notice a small part of your eye’s lens is cloudy. Vision loss is usually mild at first, but symptoms can become more noticeable.
Common signs of cataracts include:
- Clouded, blurred, or dim vision
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in one eye
- Worsening vision at night
- Frequent changes in your eyeglass prescription
- Sensitivity to light & glare
- Seeing halos around lights
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially sudden vision changes, visit your optometrist as soon as possible. Concerning symptoms includes flashes of light, double vision, and sudden eye pain or headaches. If cataracts are significantly affecting your vision, you likely need treatment.
What is the Treatment for Cataracts?
The treatment for cataracts depends on the severity of your condition. For milder cases, using brighter lights at home, anti-glare sunglasses, and magnifying lenses for close work can help you see better. A new prescription for your glasses or contact lenses can sharpen your vision.
If you’re looking to get rid of your cataracts, surgery is the only way. Cataract surgery is safe, with 90% of patients obtaining better sight.
What Can I Expect After My Cataract Surgery?
While 90% of people who receive cataract surgery have improved sight, this doesn’t happen instantly. Your vision may be blurry while your eye recovers. Expect an 8-week recovery from this surgery, with your doctor providing you detailed care instructions and offering scheduled check-ups to monitor your healing progress.
What You Need to Know About Cataract Surgery
No matter how safe surgery is, there are always risks present. These possible risks include:
- Vision loss or double vision
- Swelling & infections
- Changes in eye pressure
- Retinal detachment
- Secondary cataracts
Before surgery, your doctor will discuss all of the possible risks and complications with this surgery. Cataract surgery is quick and almost painless, lasting approximately one hour.
You’ll be awake during this surgery, but you won’t see what your doctor is doing. They will remove your cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Your doctor will:
- Place numbing eye drops into your eye
- Use small tools to cut into the eye, break apart the lens, & then remove it
- Place a new artificial lens
After surgery, you’ll wait in a recovery area before the medical team confirms you can go home. They’ll provide you with after-care instructions, discuss the healing process, and schedule check-up appointments to ensure your eye is healing properly.
Your doctor will explain how to protect the eyes you had surgery on. You’ll receive eye drops to support the healing process, and you may need a special eye shield for protection. Expect to avoid activities like bending over, lifting heavy objects, or touching your eyes for a few weeks.
Your eyes may feel uncomfortable or sensitive to light, but this should stop after a few days. Make sure to call your doctor immediately if you experience:
- Vision loss
- Very red eyes
- Flashes of light or floaters
- Pain that persists through medication
After around 8 weeks, your healing should be complete, and your vision improved. If you’re worried about the healing process, remember, your optometrist is here to help.
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Cataract surgery can help you regain the clear vision you’re missing. This condition may be a part of natural aging, but you don’t need to live with cloudy or blurry vision.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of cataracts, contact your optometrist.