Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. Most people over 65 have some degree of cataract development. A cataract is the gradual clouding of the natural lens that is inside your eye. In order for the eye to work properly, it needs a clear lens to focus light on the retina. Although cataracts are not preventable, luckily they are very treatable with cataract surgery. Once the cataracts begin restricting your activities or decreasing your ability to participate in normal activities such as reading, working or driving, its time to talk with your doctor.
The eye functions much like a camera. Light rays enter the eye, passing through the cornea, the aqueous humor — transparent fluid in the front of the eye — and then the pupil and into the lens. The lens bends the light rays to focus objects onto the retina lining the back of the eye. From there, the image passes through the retinal cells, into the optic nerve, and finally to the back of the brain which process the images. Cataracts occur when there is a buildup of protein in the lens that makes it cloudy. This prevents light from passing clearly through the lens, causing some loss of vision. Since new lens cells form on the outside of the lens, all the older cells are compacted into the center of the lens resulting in the cataract.
As cataracts develop very slowly most people do not know they have them at first. However, the clouding progresses and vision will gradually get worse. Stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help improve vision. Nevertheless, eventually the vision impairment affects the patient’s ability to carry out everyday tasks. At this point the individual will need surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is usually a very effective and safe procedure. Cataracts cause more vision problems globally than any other eye condition or disease. Since the symptoms of cataracts are similar to other eye problems, its important to see your eye doctor if experiencing these symptoms.
Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgery in the United States. Only one eye is treated at a time and the procedure takes less than thirty minutes. The artificial lens, called an intraocular lens, is positioned in the same place as your natural lens, and it remains a permanent part of your eye. For some people, other eye problems prohibit the use of an artificial lens. In these situations, once the cataract is removed, vision may be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. During cataract surgery, your eye doctor uses local anesthesia to numb the area around your eye, but you usually stay awake during the procedure. Cataract surgery is generally safe, but it carries a risk of infection and bleeding. Cataract surgery increases the risk of retinal detachment. After the procedure, you’ll have some discomfort for a few days. You generally will be healed within eight weeks. If you need cataract surgery in both eyes, your doctor will schedule surgery to remove the cataract in the second eye a month or two after the first surgery.
Make an appointment for an eye exam if you notice any changes in your vision. If you develop sudden vision changes, such as double vision or blurriness, see your doctor right away. Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens. Some cataracts are related to inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems and increase your risk of cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by other eye conditions, medical conditions such as diabetes, trauma or past eye surgery. Long-term use of steroid medications, too, can cause cataracts to develop.