Cataracts are a progressive, painless clouding of the natural, internal lens of the eye. Cataracts block light, making it difficult to see clearly. Over an extended period of time, cataracts can cause blindness. They’re often related to growing older, but sometimes they can develop in younger people as well.
In a normal eye, light enters and passes through the lens. The lens focuses that light into a sharp image on the retina, which relays messages through the optic nerve to the brain. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurry. Other eye conditions, such as myopia, cause blurry vision, too, but cataracts produce some distinctive signs and symptoms.
Courtesy Mayo Clinic
Blurry vision at any distance is the most common symptom of cataracts. Your view may look foggy, filmy, or cloudy. Over time, it gets worse and less light reaches the retina. It is especially especially difficult to see and drive at night.
Another early symptom is glare, or sensitivity to light. You may have trouble seeing in bright sunlight. Indoor lights may seem too bright or have halos. Driving at night is a problem because of the glare caused by street lamps and oncoming headlights.
Cataracts: Double Vision
Another symptom is double vision (also known as diplopia) when you look with one eye. This is different from the double vision that comes from the eyes not lining up properly. With cataracts, images appear double even with one eye open.
Cataracts: Color Changes
Cataracts can affect your color vision, making some hues look faded. Your vision may gradually take on a brownish or yellowish tinge. At first, you may not notice this discoloration. But over time, it may make it harder to distinguish blues and purples.
Sometimes, a cataract may temporarily improve a person’s ability to see close-up, because the cataract acts as a stronger lens. This phenomenon is called second sight, because people who may have once needed reading glasses find that they don’t need them anymore. As the condition worsens however, second sight disappears and vision continues declining.
Frequent changes to your eyeglass or contact lens prescription can be a sign of cataracts. This is because they are usually progressive and get worse over time.
The majority of cataracts are related to aging. More than half of Americans over 65 have cataracts. Babies are sometimes born with cataracts, also called congenital cataracts, or children may develop them as a result of injury or illness. Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light can also increase the risk of cataract and other eye conditions.
Risk increases with age and these factors may also contribute:
- Excess alcohol use
- Eye Injury
- Prolonged use of corticosteroids
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight or radiation
If you have vision loss caused by cataracts that can’t be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, you may need surgery to remove the cataracts. In cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. The surgery is safe and effective at improving vision. If cataracts are present in both eyes, surgery will be done on one eye at a time.
Surgery can correct both near and distance vision. They minimize or eliminate the need for reading glasses. Conventional “monofocal” lenses only correct for distance vision, meaning reading glasses are still needed after surgery. Multifocal IOLs (Intraocular Lens) can be an option in some patients to help improve both distance and near vision.
For a few days, the eye may be itchy and sensitive to light. The doctor may prescribe drops to aid healing as well as wearing eye shields or glasses for protection. It takes about eight weeks for the eye to heal completely. In addition, you may still need glasses for distance or reading, as well as a new prescription after healing is complete.
Complications from cataract surgery are rare. The most common risks are bleeding, infection, and changes in eye pressure, which are all treatable when caught early. Surgery slightly raises the risk of retinal detachment, which requires emergency treatment. Sometimes, lens tissue left after surgery and used to support the IOL can become cloudy, even years after surgery. A laser treatment corrects this condition.
Things you can do that may lower your risk of developing cataracts:
- Don’t smoke.
- Always wear a hat or sunglasses in the sun.
- Keep diabetes well controlled.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
Watch this informative video on cataracts: