As we age, our vision starts to become blurry, dark, or less vibrant than it used to be. Regular activities like reading, driving, or watching TV become more difficult over time. For most people over age 40, these vision problems are primarily caused by cataracts.
If you have cataracts, you’re not alone. Cataracts are the most common age-related eye condition in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute, over half of all Americans will have had a cataract or cataract surgery by age 80.
The good news is, safe and effective cataract treatment is available. After cataract surgery, some people even end up with better vision than they had before they developed a cataract. Why? Because cataract surgery has advanced to the point where surgeons can fix cataracts and correct vision problems at the same time. Many of our cataract patients are pleased to know that cataract surgery often reduces dependence on glasses and contact lenses!
What are cataracts?
The natural lens of the eye is a small, flexible structure, about the same size and shape of an M&M candy. The lens is normally crystal-clear and sits directly behind the pupil and iris. Our eyes use the lens to focus on objects that are close or far away. A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, usually as a result of the natural aging process. Clouding of the lens causes the light to be blocked or scattered as it passes through the lens, thus delivering dim, blurred, or obstructed images to the retina.
There are three different types of age-related cataracts:
- Nuclear cataracts develop in the center of the lens. The lens grows yellow and hardens, affecting the eye’s ability to focus. Nuclear cataracts develop slowly and typically make it more difficult to focus on objects from a distance; close-up vision may temporarily improve.
- Cortical cataracts appear near the peripheral area of the lens and occur when the thin fibers that hold the lens in place retain water, causing the fiber cells to swell and become irritated. As a result, fissures that resemble frost or the spokes of a wheel start to form in the lens, extending from the outside edge of the lens to the center.
- Subcapsular cataracts form when a cloudy or opaque area appears on the backside, or posterior, of the lens, just beneath the lens capsule, a small membrane that holds the lens in place. Glare around lights, halo effects, and difficulty reading most often occur with this type of cataract.
Although age-related cataracts are most common, babies and young children have also been known to develop cataracts. Trauma, genetics, and congenital birth defects can all lead to cataract development in children.
What causes cataracts?
Beyond the normal process of aging, other factors may add to your risk of developing cataracts. Such factors include:
- Medical conditions such as diabetes
- Certain drugs such as corticosteroids
- A family history of cataracts
- Previous impacts to the eye including injury, surgery, or upper-body radiation therapy
- Overexposure of the eyes to sunlight without protection from UV (ultraviolet) resistant sunglasses
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Smoking, which may increase cloudiness of the lens
Common symptoms of cataracts
If you’re experiencing one or more of these vision problems, they may indicate the formation of cataracts:
- Blurriness, haziness, or clouded portions of your vision
- Reduced color intensity, faded colors, or an overall yellow tint
- Increased light sensitivity, especially during nighttime driving
- Seeing double and/or ghost images
- Greater difficulty seeing at night
- Need for a stronger light source when reading
Cataracts often occur so slowly that you may not notice any changes to your vision. This is why routine examinations with the eye care professionals at Fry Eye Associates are key to diagnosing and monitoring the development of cataracts.
To explore your cataract treatment options with Fry Eye Associates, contact us today!