Almost everyone knows an older family member or friend who has had cataracts. But what are cataracts? Can you avoid them? How do you detect a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that impairs vision. It can occur in one eye or both. A person with a cataract may notice that their vision has become blurred or duller. They may have trouble reading or identifying colors, in particular blues and purples. Often, their vision at night will be compromised and become light sensitive to the extent that headlights or lamps may seem too bright or appear to have a halo or light streaks radiating from them. The lens in the eye is critical to seeing well. It focuses light that enters the eye onto the retina at the back of the eye, creating an image that is sent to the brain. It also focuses the eye so you can see things far away or close up. Just like a camera with a smudged lens, if the eye’s lens is cloudy, the image quality will be poor.
The lens is made of proteins and water. The proteins are precisely arranged to let light pass through. With a cataract, some of the proteins bunch together and cloud part of the lens. The cloudy area increases over time, making it more difficult to see.
Although most cataracts occur in older people, others can also experience this. Some children are born with small cataracts. Cataracts also can be caused by surgery, steroid use, exposure to radiation or an eye injury. Finally, some diseases such as diabetes can contribute to your chance of cataracts developing earlier.
You may be able to reduce your risk of a cataract. Some simple tips are to avoid UV exposure by wearing sunglasses or regular clear glasses with a UV- coating and wear a brimmed hat; to get good nutrition, in particular, green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.
It’s also very important to receive a regular, preventive eye care from an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Your eye doctor can give you a comprehensive eye exam, which detects cataracts and other eye diseases. A typical eye exam is painless and measures several factors. Your eyes will be dilated, which means the provider will put drops in your eyes to dilate (or widen) your pupils. This allows the doctor to see more of your inner eye. Using a magnifying lens, your doctor will look at your retina, optical nerve and other elements of each eye and will check the eye pressure. Your eye doctor will track your vision health over time, record changes and answer your questions.
Presently the non surgical treatment for cataracts is to maximize your glasses prescription and possibly include a tint in the glasses to cut down the glare. Also larger print material with good lighting and wearing a hat to cut down the glare from direct sunlight can help to improve the vision.
A surgical cataract treatment option would be recommended once the vision cannot be corrected and the symptoms have progressed to a point that it interferes with your daily activities. At this point the cloudy lens is replaced with a clear artificial lens called an Intraocular lens. This is an outpatient procedure that is done by our cataract surgeons upon our referral.