June is Cataract Awareness Month. Did you know cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in America? More than 24 million Americans aged 40 and older who have cataracts. If you have been diagnosed with cataracts, the good news is that the condition doesn’t have to affect your quality of life forever. Early detection and treatment of cataracts is critical to preserving sight.
What are cataracts?
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens. When looking at something, light must travel through the lens and focus onto the retina, a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye which functions as film for an older camera (captures light). A clear lens focuses light properly onto the retina.
That lens, which is made mostly of water and protein, can develop clumps of protein with age, clouding the lens. When cloudy, all of the light does not make it to the retina, resulting in blurred vision. How quickly cataracts develop depends on the individual. Mild clouding of the eye may not affect vision much, but it is when a majority of the lens becomes clouded that serious vision problems develop and treatment becomes necessary.
In most cases, cataracts are related to normal aging. However, there are cataracts that can develop from other causes, such as congenital cataracts, or cataracts that develop as the result a disease, illness or traumatic injury.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
Signs and symptoms of cataracts vary based on the severity of the condition. The larger and denser the cataracts, the more they will affect vision, requiring cataract surgery for treatment.
Common symptoms of cataracts include, but are not limited to:
- Dim or decreased vision
- Film or fog over vision
- Decreased contrast (ability to detect variations in shading)
- Double vision
- Difficulty seeing street signs, curbs, and freeway exits
- Difficulty seeing traffic lights
- Seeing halos or glare around lights
- Difficulty driving at night
- Difficulty seeing TV, movies, or the faces
- Difficulty reading printed materials, even with good light and proper glasses
- Difficulty with handiwork such as needlepoint, sewing, or car repairs
- Difficulty with writing
- Difficulty playing cards, games, or sports activities
- Difficulty navigating around the house
- Difficulty with daily activities such as cooking, ironing, climbing stairs, dialing the telephone, and reading your watch
Many times, the cataract progresses so slowly that you may not notice how poor your vision is until the cataract is treated. It may be that all you need is a change in glasses, but these symptoms can be a sign of cataracts. As the cataract worsens, it may begin to interfere with your daily activities, as listed above.
The good news is that cataracts are treatable with cataract surgery. A cataract may not require surgery right away if your lifestyle isn't significantly affected. In rare cases, a change to your eyeglasses may improve your vision a little. Once you are diagnosed with a cataract, your ophthalmologist needs to monitor your vision regularly for any changes.
Click here to view a cataract simulator to see how cataracts might affect your vision.
What are the treatment options for cataracts?
Since most cataracts are part of the normal aging process, they cannot be reversed. There are no medications or eye drops that will improve your vision once cataracts begin to progress. When a cataract is affecting your vision to the point that it interferes with your daily activities, our physicians may recommend cataract surgery to remove it. With cataract surgery, your eye's cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens implant (called an intraocular lens or IOL). For more information on IOL choices, click here.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of cataracts, including difficulty seeing, blurred vision, or seeing a halo or glare around lights, or have difficulty seeing to complete simple daily tasks, schedule an appointment with The Eye Center today.