Cataract Awareness Month
Since June is Cataract Awareness Month, it is only fitting that we discuss cataracts. Everyone will develop cataracts at some point later in life, so this post is applicable to people of all ages.
What is a cataract?
In order to understand what a cataract is, we must first learn about the anatomy and physiology of the ocular lens. We are born with a crystal, clear lens (about the size of an M&M®) that sits behind the iris in each eye. The lens is very flexible and changes shape when focusing on near objects, just as an old-school camera lens shifts in and out to focus. Over time, the lens becomes more rigid and cannot change its shape as it previously did. This leads to difficulty with focusing at near, which usually begins in one’s early 40s. Reading glasses, bifocals, or progressive lenses (no-line bifocals) help alleviate the near blur by compensating for the lack of lens flexibility.
During the hardening process of the lens, it also begins to turn yellow or hazy. This is due to years of UV light exposure, medications, and other lifestyle factors (smoking, radiation, trauma, genetics, systemic diseases, nutrition) that alter the lens proteins.
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 they might be asymmetric in progression. There are many unique types of cataracts, and a person will typically exhibit a combination of types. Babies can even be born with a congenital cataract, which requires urgent cataract surgery to encourage normal vision development.
What are the symptoms of a cataract?
A mild increase in glare while driving at night is usually the first change a person notices related to the presence of cataracts. Beginning in the early stages of cataract formation, more light on reading material can help with contrast. We all know – the more light, the easier it is to read something! 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. If the cataract in one eye is much worse than the other eye, it can also affect depth perception.
If there is no intervention with cataract surgery, the cataracts will continue to worsen. The symptoms and decreased vision is only reversible through cataract surgery.
What is cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries 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. We will discuss the findings with you and work together in determining when it is appropriate for a referral to a cataract surgeon.
When it is time for cataract surgery, we will refer you to a cataract surgeon who will perform a similar examination the first time he or she meets you. They will discuss lens selections (standard vs. upgraded), pre-operative eye drops, day of surgery preparation, and post-operative eye drops.
During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a brand-new, clear implant specifically selected to correct a large portion of the individual’s distance vision. Most people remember bits and pieces of the procedure, but will mostly be in a “twilight zone” with limited memory and sensations. The preparation and recovery in the surgical center takes longer than the actual procedure itself.
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. While it is impossible to stop the formation and growth of cataracts, it is possible to slow or delay the progression. Avoiding smoking, wearing sun protection, and eating a healthy diet are all positive lifestyle factors that can sometimes delay the onset and progression of cataracts.
Don’t worry though! If you do have cataracts, we will be sure to thoroughly explain your options moving forward. Think you might have cataracts? Schedule an appointment with one of our three doctors today!