A cataract is a cloudy area that forms in the eye’s lens, which is located behind the iris (the colored part of the eye) and is normally transparent. The lens focuses light and allows the eyes and brain to collaborate and form a clear image. Cataracts disrupt this process by fogging the lens and causing a gradual decline in vision.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 25 million people ages 40 and older have cataracts and half of all Americans develop cataracts by age 75. A cataract may only form in one eye, although most people with this condition eventually experience cloudiness in both eyes, oftentimes at different rates.
Cataracts are most known to cause noticeable cloudiness in the affected eye and blurred, foggy, or dimmed vision. Other common signs and symptoms of cataracts include:
• Double vision
• Intense sensitivity to light
• Seeing normally bright colors as faded or yellowed
• Needing more light than normal to read
• Increased difficulty seeing at night
• Frequently needing to change prescription glasses
• A glare or a halo around lights, especially at night
Cataract symptoms tend to be very subtle at first. As the cataract grows, noticeable changes in vision can occur and make it difficult to walk and drive safely.
Causes of Cataracts
Over the years, the lens of the eye becomes thicker, less flexible, and more vulnerable to cataracts. A cataract forms when naturally occurring proteins in the lens break down and clump together, obscuring the lens and making it difficult to see clearly. Without treatment, the cataract will steadily continue to grow and become denser.
Cataracts are considered a normal part of aging, although diseases such as diabetes and glaucoma, eye injuries, and behaviors like forgetting to wear sunglasses can accelerate cataract development.
Types of Cataracts
Cataracts are categorized according to where they develop within the lens. The main types of cataracts include:
• Nuclear cataracts, which form in the center (nucleus) of the lens and cause it to appear brown or yellowed.
• Cortical cataracts, which develop in wedge shapes around the edges of the nucleus.
• Posterior capsular cataracts, which form quickly toward the back of the lens.
Cataracts may also be categorized by how they form. For example, congenital cataracts (an uncommon condition) are present at birth, while radiation cataracts can occur after receiving radiation treatment for cancer. Traumatic cataracts may also form after an eye injury, although this often takes several years.
Risk Factors for Cataracts
A risk factor is a characteristic or behavior that can increase the risk of developing a certain condition. Cataracts are associated with a wide range of risk factors, including:
• Older age (cataracts are rare in people younger than 40)
• A family history of cataracts
• Drinking alcohol in excess
• Frequent exposure to direct sunlight
• High blood pressure
• A previous eye surgery or eye injury
• A personal history of eye inflammation
• Long-term use of corticosteroid medications
• Living in an area with poor air quality
While it’s impossible to definitively prevent cataracts, there are several steps you can take to lower your risk and help preserve your eye health. These include:
• Wearing sunglasses when outside
• Drinking alcohol in moderation or avoiding it altogether
• Avoiding or quitting smoking
• Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
• Attending regular eye examinations
• Properly managing diabetes, if you’ve been diagnosed
Diagnosing cataracts begins with a thorough eye examination from an ophthalmologist—a doctor who is specially trained to treat eye conditions. To check for cataracts, an ophthalmologist may dilate the pupil (the black part of the eye) by applying special eye drops and use a slit lamp or an ophthalmoscope to closely view the lens.
Treatment Options for Cataracts
Treatment for mild or moderate cases of cataracts may involve wearing prescription eyeglasses or contacts. Some people also find it helpful to use anti-glare glasses. Eventually, though, surgery to remove the cataracts will likely be recommended for patients with worsening symptoms.
While most cataract procedures involve breaking up the cloudy lens, gently removing it, and replacing it with an artificial lens to restore vision, there are several surgical approaches that can be taken:
- No-stitch Cataract Surgery – An outpatient procedure that utilizes the natural pressure within the eye to replace the cloudy lens without stitches.
- Multifocal or Monofocal Intraocular Lens Surgery – A procedure to remove the natural lens and replace it with a multifocal or monofocal lens that can address cataracts as well as astigmatism (if appropriate).
- Femtosecond Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery – A procedure involving a special laser that precisely breaks apart the cloudy lens and carefully removes it without the use of traditional surgical instruments.
- AcrySof® Intraocular Lens Surgery – A group of advanced lenses that can be implanted to address a wide range of vision problems, including cataracts, astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness.
- YAG Laser Capsulotomy – A laser-assisted procedure that may be appropriate for patients at risk of developing a second cataract following the initial surgery.
Cataract surgery in general is associated with a high success rate and a low risk of complications. Most patients can go home the day of their surgery, and many notice significant vision improvements in just a few days after the procedure.
See Clearly Again
The ophthalmologists at Florida Medical Clinic provide individualized care and advanced surgical treatment to patients with cataracts and other vision problems. To schedule a cataract evaluation at one of our centers in North Tampa, Zephyrhills, New Tampa, or Land O’Lakes, request an appointment with one of our providers.
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