Cataracts are formed through the natural aging process as the initially clear eye lens becomes clouded, more rigid and hard.
At some point, the maturing lens begins to opacify, blocking and scattering the light entering the eye. If left untreated, a cataract will naturally continue to progress. In some cases, the maturing cataract becomes completely white and can be seen in the mirror or by others.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A CATARACT?
- Difficulty reading: newspapers, books or medicine labels may be difficult to read even with the use of glasses or contacts.
- Difficulty seeing in the distance: street signs, house numbers, or your neighbors’ faces may be difficult to identify even with the use of glasses or contacts.
- Glare and halos around lights: driving at night may feel uncomfortable and it may be difficult to count the number of lights.
- Difficulty seeing in bright light: vision may become excessively blurry in bright light and improve in darker areas.
- Difficulty seeing in poor or dim light: reading menus in dark restaurants may be challenging
- Difficulty walking or using stairs: limited depth perception and blurry vision can increase the risk of falls around the house or while running errands.
- Difficulty seeing well enough to participate in hobbies or leisure activities: quality of life can be decreased as worsening vision can contribute to withdrawal from enjoyable activities.
HOW ARE CATARACTS TREATED?
Once a cataract is found affecting vision, the definitive treatment is surgical. Glasses, polarized lenses or weak dilating drops can be used to temporarily delay surgery, but with time, the cataract will continue to progress unless removed. The operation is typically a same-day procedure done with some sedation but not general anesthesia. Needle-sized instruments are used to remove the cataract and insert a permanent artificial lens.
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HOW CAN THE RISK OF DEVELOPING A CATARACT BE REDUCED?
The biggest risk factor for developing a cataract is age; everyone will develop a cataract if they live long enough, and 1 in 6 people over the age of 40 in the United States has a cataract. That said, there are several modifiable risk factors:
- Smoking: cessation will improve not only the health of the eye but also many other organs in the body.
- UV-B radiation: wear sunglasses when outside in the bright light.
- Diabetes: work with a primary care physician to achieve good blood sugar control.
- Malnutrition: eat a healthy well-rounded diet and consider taking a multivitamin.
- Trauma: wear protective lenses when there is a risk of fast moving objects striking the eye (e.g. hammering, sawing)