Cataracts occur when the eye’s clear lens becomes cloudy. For many patients, the development of cataracts is gradual and slow, making it difficult to learn that you have the condition until symptoms become more pronounced. Patients who have recently been diagnosed with cataracts, as well as their friends and family will want to learn more about this condition before weighing options for treatment.
The clouding of the eye’s lens when forming a cataract can occur in one eye or both and it cannot be spread from one to the other, according to the National Eye Institute. The lens is the clear part of your eye and it helps focus images on the light-sensitive retina located at the back of the eye.
Under normal circumstances, light travels through the clear lens and then hits the retina, where the light signals are converted into nerve impulses. These electrical impulses are directed to the brain so we can see.
Your eye’s lens is composed of protein and water, with the protein structured so the lens remains clear, enabling light to reach the retina. As individuals grow older, the proteins in the lens can start to cluster, eventually clouding a part of the lens to become a cataract. As a cataract grows over time, it becomes cloudier and further interferes with normal vision.
Furthermore, when the clear lens of your eye grows cloudier, you may notice that your vision is tinged brown. This complication results in patients sometimes not being able to clearly identify the colors blue and purple. Consider how this issue with sensing color will affect the way you engage with the world, from selecting clothes to wear in the morning to enjoying nature or a movie.
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with cataracts, it would be normal for you to wonder just how common this condition is. You’re definitely not alone in having this problem with your vision.
The most frequent cause of vision loss related to aging is cataracts, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of Americans aged more than 80 years have cataracts, and at least one million surgeries are performed in this country every year to address cataracts. However, not all patients are candidates for surgery, so individuals diagnosed with cataracts may need to consider other treatment options.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Cataracts
The first indication that you have cataracts is when you notice that vision is blurry or seems cloudy. In some cases, colors will be muted. Problems with glare tend to arise as well. When you look at lamps, car headlights or the sun, the light may seem too intense and you may even see a halo around lights.
Patients with cataracts may experience diminished night vision, making it difficult or impossible for them to drive safely at night. Sometimes cataracts lead to you seeing multiple images or experiencing double vision in one eye.
One other indication of cataracts that you can discover during trips to the optometrist is the need for frequent changes to your contact lenses or eyeglasses. This should serve as a reminder for you to make appointments at least once per year to visit your eye care professional, since regular monitoring helps to catch serious eye conditions when they are still in the early stage.
Of course, if you notice any of these symptoms, your priority should be to make an appointment with your eye care professional.
An eye doctor has a slew of diagnostic tests to determine if a patient has cataracts. You’ll typically undergo a test of your visual acuity, just as you would when coming in to be fitted for glasses or contacts.
You’ll have a dilated eye exam, where drops widen your pupils so the eye doctor can look at your optic nerve and retina for damage. To check the pressure, the eye care professional will administer a tonometry test. Patients often have their eyes numbed during the testing, and the effects of eye dilation will last several hours, necessitating you to wear protective shades.
Common Causes of Cataracts
Aging is a major cause of cataracts. The people who are most at risk of developing cataracts include individuals with diabetes, people who smoke or drink alcohol and those who have experienced lengthy exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun sans protective shades. Using steroids can lead to cataracts, so athletes using performance enhancements should keep that risk in mind.
There are four other common methods of developing cataracts:
* Congenital Cataract: These occur at birth, although some babies develop congenital cataracts as children. The NEI notes that congenital cataracts are typically too small to affect a child’s vision.
* Radiation Cataract: People who work around radioactive materials can sometimes be exposed to damaging energy that causes cataracts.
* Secondary Cataract: These cataracts occur after a patient has had surgery for other issues with their eyes, including a procedure for glaucoma.
* Traumatic Cataract: Trauma, such as being hit by a baseball or injury from a car crash can lead to cataracts, and in some cases, the cataracts may take years to develop.
Options for Treatment
A variety of options exist for addressing and treating cataracts. You’ll need to consult with your eye care professional to see what might be most appropriate for you. For some with early stages of cataracts, the solution could be a prescription for new glasses, using brighter lights, a magnifier and sunglasses with anti-glare coating.
If cataracts are larger and make it very difficult to do normal tasks such as reading and driving, cataract surgery may be an appropriate response. However, if you prefer to avoid surgery or if your doctor determines that surgery is not appropriate, you have the option of using a technological solution, like the eSight, which are electronic glasses that can enhance vision for people who are legally blind.
Using State-of-the-Art Technology to Help With Vision Problems
For cataract patients who are not candidates for eye surgery, the option to use technology such as eSight can make a world of difference for ordinary activities like seeing people’s faces, reading or driving. If you would like to learn more about our approach to enhancing vision with eSight or are interested in a consultation, please connect with us today.
Learned how eSight helped this young woman living with cataracts get to Harvard.