What Is a Cataract?
When the normally clear lens within your eye becomes cloudy or opaque, it is called a cataract. Cataracts vary from extremely small areas of cloudiness to large opaque areas that cause a noticeable loss of vision.
Who Gets Cataracts?
Cataracts most often develop in people over the age of 55, but they are also occasionally found in younger people, including newborns.
What Causes Cataracts?
Many factors can contribute to the development of cataracts. Chemical changes can occur within the lens in your eye that cause it to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury, or a disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (present in sunlight), cigarette smoking, or the use of certain medications, are also risk factors for the development of cataracts.
Can Cataracts Be Prevented?
Currently, there are no proven methods to prevent cataracts from forming. However, reducing exposure to sunlight, decreasing or discontinuing smoking, and eating a balanced diet may be helpful in preventing their development.
What Are Signs/Symptoms of Cataracts?
Cataracts usually develop slowly and without pain. Some indications that a cataract may be forming include blurred or hazy vision, decreased color perception, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes. A temporary improvement in near vision may occur, and increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night, may be experienced. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.
How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?
A comprehensive eye examination by a doctor of optometry can determine if you have a cataract forming.
How Are Cataracts Treated?
If a cataract develops to a point that your daily activities are affected, you will be referred to an eye surgeon who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataract. The surgery can generally be done in the surgeon's office using a local or topical anesthetic. Using a small incision, the surgeon will remove the clouded lens and, in most cases, replace it with an intraocular lens implant. A medication is generally placed in the eye after surgery and the eye may be patched.
What Happens After Cataract Surgery?
You will need to have several follow-up evaluations by your optometrist to monitor the healing process. When completed, eyeglasses or contact lenses may be prescribed to provide the most effective post-cataract vision.
Is Surgery the Only Way to Treat Cataracts?
Your optometrist can prescribe changes in your eyewear that will help you see more clearly until surgery is necessary. When eyewear no longer provides adequate eyesight, surgery is the only proven means of effectively treating cataracts. Surgery is relatively uncomplicated and has an excellent success rate.
When Will I Need to Have Cataracts Removed?
Cataracts may develop slowly over many years or they may form rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to the point where they need to be removed. Your optometrist can help you decide on the appropriate time for removal. Most people wait until the cataracts interfere with daily activities before having them removed.
This information provided by the American Optometric Association (AOA). To find out more, visit their website at www.aoa.org.