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What Are Cataracts and How Are They Treated?

What Are Cataracts and How Are They Treated?

Cataracts are exceedingly common, especially with increasing age. The treatment for cataracts is also common, as well as highly safe and effective.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cataracts represent the most common cause of age-related vision loss globally. More than 24 million Americans older than age 40 have a cataract.

The good news is that once you have detected a cataract, the condition can be corrected with a highly effective surgery. Read on to learn more about cataracts and how our providers at Lompoc Valley Medical Center can help you prevent, detect, and treat cataracts.

What Is a Cataract?

A cataract is an eye condition in which the lens of your eye becomes cloudy. Some doctors have described that having a cataract is similar to wearing sunglasses all the time. Cataracts generally develop slowly over time and are very common as we age. According to the National Eye Institute, by the age of 80, greater than half of Americans will have either had a cataract or had surgery to remove a cataract.

What Causes Cataracts?

A cataract is caused by changes in the substances that make up the lens of your eye, which are proteins, fibers, and water. The lens is located centrally, behind the colored part of your eye (known as the iris). It helps focus light as it enters your eye so that your brain can properly perceive your environment. The clouding caused by a cataract can get in the way of this process and negatively impact your vision.

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Some people might not notice that they have a cataract because vision changes can occur gradually. However, when symptoms of a cataract develop, they can include:

  • Blurriness or hazy vision
  • Decreased color vision
  • More sensitivity to glare from lights, especially with night driving
  • Development of a halo around lights
  • Seeing double
  • More difficulty seeing at night
  • Changes in eyeglass prescriptions
  • Difficulty performing daily activities, such as reading

People can develop cataracts in one or both eyes, but they are not contagious. If you have a cataract in one eye, it will not spread to your other eye. However, the conditions that cause a cataract to develop in one eye are also likely to be present in the other eye, so it is possible to develop cataracts on both sides.

Who Is Most Likely to Get Cataracts?

Cataracts typically develop after age 55. However, certain kinds of cataracts are present in infants due to a genetic condition or an infection. Cataracts can also occur after an eye injury or surgery.

Risk factors for cataracts include:

  • Diabetes
  • Medications such as corticosteroids
  • Increased exposure to sunlight (UV radiation)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol intake
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Genetic predisposition
  • White race

What Are the Types of Cataracts?

The lens of your eye has three layers: the capsule (outermost layer), the cortex, and the nucleus. When a cataract develops, it is named according to where it is located. So cataract types include nuclear cataracts, cortical cataracts, and posterior capsular cataracts.

How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?

A cataract can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam when your eyes are dilated using special drops that widen your pupil. A doctor will consider your medical history and other eye conditions for diagnosis. Often, a cataract can obscure an underlying eye condition, so a thorough eye examination is critical.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Initially, cataracts can be treated with new glasses, changes to the lighting of your environment, or even specific lenses to reduce glare. Some people will be able to manage mild cataracts well with these small adjustments. However, the definitive treatment for cataracts is surgery.

How Common Is Cataract Surgery?

Cataract surgery is one of the most common types of surgery performed in the United States. The CDC reports that more than one million cataract surgeries are conducted annually.

How Effective Is Cataract Surgery?

According to the American Optometric Association, about 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery experienced improvements in their vision.

What Happens During Cataract Surgery?

A doctor will remove your cloudy lens during cataract surgery and replace the lens with an artificial one. You will usually be awake during this process, and it generally takes about one hour. Your eye will be numbed, so you will not feel any pain.

If you have cataracts in both eyes, the surgeries will not be done at the same time—usually, they will be scheduled about four weeks apart. Cataract surgery is a very delicate operation, but it is highly successful. Most people can return to their normal lives just a few days after the procedure.

What Risks Are Involved with Cataract Surgery?

Cataract surgery is very safe. However, like any surgery, you will face a risk of swelling, bleeding, or infection. Because cataract surgery involves making tiny incisions in your eye, it can occasionally cause eye complications such as vision loss, altered eye pressure, or detachment of the retina (back part of your eye). Sometimes a secondary cataract will develop after cataract surgery. This can be treated with a simple laser procedure.

What if Cataracts Aren’t Treated?

It is your decision whether to undergo cataract surgery. Cataracts are not an emergent condition, and they do not require emergent surgery. However, cataracts can interfere with your ability to perform your daily activities. For this reason, they can disrupt your quality of life. When you begin to struggle with reading or driving, it may be time to consider cataract surgery seriously.

How Can Cataracts Be Prevented?

While aging is a primary risk factor for the development of cataracts—and we don’t currently have a way to reduce your risk of aging—you can reduce your chance of getting cataracts. You can wear a hat with a wide brim or sunglasses to block your UV sun exposure when you are outside. You can also refrain from smoking and feed your eyes critical nutrients, such as those that come from dark, leafy green vegetables.

How to Learn More about Cataracts

To learn more about cataracts, or to have an eye evaluation, contact our primary care team at Lompoc Valley Medical Center today.