A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. The eye lens lies behind the iris (colored portion of the eye) and the pupil (the round, dark center of the eye).
The eye lens is mainly composed of water and protein. During the normal aging process, the protein may start to cluster together causing a cloud to form. The cloud or cataract may continue to grow further clouding the vision. This condition is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40.
Causes of Cataracts
The exact cause of cataracts is unknown. They can be present at birth (congenital cataracts) but generally occur gradually with age being most noticeable around the age of 55. Cataracts can also be the result of an injury to the eye (traumatic cataracts).
Studies indicate the following additional causes and risk factors for cataracts:
- Exposure to ultraviolet (sun) light
- Excessive exposure to radiation
- Certain diseases including diabetes and high blood pressure
- Long term use of medications such as steroids, diuretics and tranquilizers
- Excess use of sodium chloride (table salt)
- Cigarette smoking
- Air pollution
- Heavy alcohol use
Signs and Symptoms
Initially, you may notice only slight and occasional cloudy vision. As the cataract progresses, your symptoms will increase and you may experience the following:
- Blurred vision that cannot be corrected with a change in prescription
- Increased cloudy vision
- Double vision
- Ghost or halo vision
- Glare from sunlight and artificial light
- Decreased color perception
- Increased glare during night driving
Once progressed to the point that your vision cannot be corrected with a change in prescription, cataract surgery is your only option. This surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States and is extremely effective.
In most cases, surgery is outpatient using local anesthesia to numb the area. The procedure normally takes just 10 minutes with the entire appointment usually lasting less than two hours.
The clouded lens is removed and replaced with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Advancements in these lenses have also made it possible to correct presbyopia and, thus, improve far and nearsighted vision.
If cataract surgery is required on both eyes, one eye is done with a few weeks of recovery time before the other eye is done. Cataract surgery is generally safe. Risks include infection, bleeding and retinal detachment.
Good health care is important in preventing or delaying the onset of cataracts.
- Always wear sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat to lessen your exposure to UVA rays.
- If you smoke, stop and avoid excess alcohol use.
- Some studies indicate that a diet high in antioxidants, selenium and vitamins A, C and E may lessen your chances of developing cataracts.
Cataracts can be detected during a regular eye exam. If you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms or have questions or concerns about your risk of cataracts, call our office at 425.822.8253 to schedule an appointment.