Cataract Awareness Month 2022
June 3, 2022
Everyone will develop cataracts at some point later in adulthood, and there is nothing we can do to magically prevent them. Since June is Cataract Awareness Month, let’s discuss more details about cataracts and what to expect once you have them.
What are cataracts?
Behind the iris, a clear lens is present at birth. The lens changes its shape to focus on objects at varying distances. Over time, the lens becomes less flexible and loses its crystal clear properties. The hardening process and subsequent yellowing or clouding of the lens results in a cataract. The most common, age-related, form of cataracts is called nuclear sclerosis, which literally translates into “hardening of the nucleus” (the centermost part of the lens).
Cataracts typically occur in both eyes at the same time, although one could be worse than the other. There are many unique types of cataracts, and a person can exhibit a combination of types.
A mild increase in glare while driving at night is usually the first change a person notices relating to the presence of cataracts. As the cataracts progress, there is a dimming of color intensity and eventually an overall blur that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or LASIK.
When do cataracts develop?
The flexibility of the lens typically begins to notably decrease in one’s early 40s, which is the start of presbyopia; Some may consider this a “pre-cataract” since the next change to the lens affects transparency, which is then officially diagnosed as a cataract. Yellowing of the lens is usually apparent by the time people are in their 60s, however, vision changes may take years to notice. The average age for cataract surgery in the United States is 73 years old. Since cataract surgery has been greatly refined over the last 20 years, it seems that people are not waiting as long to have cataract surgery anymore. If there are vision complaints associated with the presence of cataracts, then the issue is addressed rather than waiting until the vision is severely compromised.
Although cataracts are usually discussed under the age-related context, babies can actually be born with a congenital cataract. Depending on the severity, it may require urgent treatment to encourage normal vision development. Some individuals develop cataracts sooner than others due to lifestyle factors such as smoking, nutrition, systemic diseases, radiation treatment, and medications that alter the lens proteins.
What happens during cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed procedure in the United States. When changes to vision and glare are affecting everyday activities and quality of life, it is time to think about surgery. If there is no intervention, the cataracts will continue to worsen. The symptoms and decreased vision are only reversible through cataract surgery.
Prior to surgery, dilation drops and local anesthetics are administered to the eye. All of the work is completed through a 2 millimeter incision that closes on its own and rarely requires a suture to close the area. A process called phacoemulsification, which literally means breaking down (or emulsifying) the lens, is used to remove the cloudy cataract through the tiny incision. It is then replaced with a clear intraocular lens, specifically selected to correct a large portion of the individual’s distance vision. There are also options that correct both distance and near vision.
With modern technology, cataract surgery only takes about 15 minutes for each eye. The worst eye is usually completed first, then the second eye is done at least two weeks later. This ensures proper healing of the first eye before any further surgery occurs. Post-operative prescription eye drops help minimize the risk of infection and inflammation. Several follow-up appointments are necessary to confirm healing and determine an updated glasses prescription, if needed.
Can cataracts be prevented?
There is no proven method to prevent cataracts, as they are part of the natural aging process that occurs to everyone’s eyes. Avoiding smoking, wearing sun protection, and eating a healthy diet are all positive lifestyle factors that can possibly delay the onset and progression of cataracts, but it is impossible to truly stop the formation of cataracts.
Don’t worry though! If you do have cataracts, we will be sure to thoroughly explain your options moving forward. We hope to get you seeing better quickly!