What is a cataract? A cataract is an opacity or cloudiness of the natural lens of the eye. The lens is located behind the iris, or colored part of the eye and is one of the many refractive structures in the eye that contribute to the power of the eye and thus to overall vision. The lens of the eye also changes shape to help view near objects.
What symptoms do cataracts cause? Symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Cloudy vision
- Decreased color vision
- Double vision
- Increased glare or halos at night
What causes cataracts? Cataracts can be congenital, which means you can be born with them. They can also be caused by injury to the eye. These cataracts are known as traumatic cataracts. Some medications, such as steroids, can promote the growth of cataracts. However, most cataracts form as a natural part of aging.
At what age to people typically develop cataracts? Although people can develop cataracts at any age, they usually form after age 50. Some people don’t develop cataracts until they are in their 80’s or 90’s. Your genetic makeup, combined with your lifestyle, will determine at what age you develop cataracts but generally speaking everyone, if they live long enough, develops them at some point.
Is there anything I can do to prevent cataracts? There is nothing you can do to prevent cataracts altogether since they are a part of the natural aging process. However, there are certain things that can promote the growth of cataracts, so there are a few practices that may help you delay the growth of cataracts, such as:
- Wearing sunglasses with UV 400 protection. Studies have shown that the harmful UV rays from the sun can promote the growth of cataracts. These rays can penetrate cloud cover so wearing sunglasses when outdoors, even when cloudy, is recommended.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Other health problems, such as diabetes, put patients at a higher risk for developing cataracts at an earlier age. Many forms of diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, so it makes sense that a healthy lifestyle could delay the growth of cataracts.
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke has been linked to the growth of cataracts.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of cataracts.
- Eat healthy. Consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are high in anti-oxidants, can reduce your risk of developing cataracts at a younger age.
When is cataract surgery recommended? When a cataract interferes with vision, and inhibits patients in their daily activities, surgical removal is usually recommended.
How are cataracts treated? In early form, sometimes a change in prescription can improve vision for patients with cataracts. When this is no longer possible, surgery is typically recommended. Cataract surgery is approximately a 20 minute procedure done under a local anesthetic in either a hospital operating room or outpatient surgery center. The surgery involves breaking up the cataract into tiny pieces using either a special instrument called a phaco emulsification unit or a laser. This is so that it can be removed through a very small incision, usually without the need for sutures. Once the cataract is removed, a silicone implant is inserted. This not only takes the place of the natural lens of the eye, but can also correct refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia.
Do cataracts ever come back? The cataract itself is removed in its entirety, so it cannot come back. However, the symptoms of a cataract can return. This is the result of a clouding of a membrane within the eye known as a posterior subcapsular membrane. This membrane encompasses the natural lens of the eye. During surgery, an opening in the front part of this membrane is carefully made and the lens is removed through this opening. The rest of the membrane is kept intact and then used to hold the new lens implant in place. This membrane can become cloudy after cataract surgery. A quick, in-office procedure known as a YAG laser capsulotomy can be performed to treat this membrane. In this procedure, a laser is used to make a tiny opening in the central portion of the membrane so that patients can see through the membrane and central vision is restored. This is usually a one-time procedure.
Conclusion: Cataracts are a part of the natural aging process. Therefore, you can’t prevent cataracts entirely. However, by following the above suggestions, you may be able to delay the growth of cataracts. That said, if you live long enough, you will develop cataracts. The good news is that cataract surgery is a very simple procedure with a very quick recovery period. And, since the power of the lens implant can be customized, it can correct refractive errors. This means that patients who have worn glasses their whole lives could be glasses-free following cataract surgery. The best news of all: in most cases it’s considered a medically necessary procedure, so it’s covered by insurance.
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