Cataracts. Diagnosis and Treatment.
A cataract is clouding of the natural lens of the eye, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts are usually caused by age, when the protein in the lens may start to clump together and cloud a small area of the lens. You can compare it to the clear plastic window on a convertible car. After years of exposure to sun and normal aging, the plastic becomes yellow and cloudy. With surgery, the old window (the lens) is removed and replaced with a new, clear synthetic one.
Three Types of Cataracts
Cataracts are classified as one of three types:
- A subcapsular cataract begins at the back of the lens. People with diabetes, high farsightedness, retinitis pigmentosa, or those taking high doses of steroids, may develop a subcapsular cataract.
- A nuclear cataract is most commonly seen as it forms. This cataract forms in the nucleus, the center of the lens, and is due to natural aging changes.
- A cortical cataract forms in the lens cortex and gradually extends its spokes from the outside of the lens to the center. Many diabetics develop cortical cataracts.
Signs and Symptoms
A cataract starts out small and initially has little effect on your vision. The type of cataract you have will affect exactly which symptoms you experience and how soon they will occur. The most common symptoms are:
- Blurry sight, and occasionally, double vision
- ‘Halos’ — the eyes become dazzled by bright light, making night driving difficult
- Colors may become faded
- Frequent changes in glasses prescriptions
Causes and Prevention of Cataracts
No one knows for sure why the eye’s lens changes as we age. Many studies suggest that exposure to ultraviolet light is associated with cataract development, so eye care practitioners recommend wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to reduce your exposure. Other studies suggest people with diabetes are at risk for developing a cataract. High salt intake, cigarette smoke, air pollution and heavy alcohol consumption are also considered risk factors.
Some eye care practitioners believe that a diet high in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium and vitamins C and E, may help slow cataract development.
As with most eye conditions, the most important thing you can do is have your eyes checked regularly!
When symptoms begin to appear, you may be able to improve your vision for a while using new glasses, strong bifocals, magnification, appropriate lighting or other visual aids.
The patient can and should wait until symptoms are bothersome before considering surgery because cataracts do not harm the overall health of the eye. When cataracts have progressed enough to seriously impair vision and quality of life, cataract surgery is a simple, relatively painless means of regaining your vision. During surgery, the surgeon will remove your clouded lens and in most cases replace it with a clear, intraocular lens implant (IOL).
Cataract surgery has the highest success rate of any surgery practiced today, with a less-than- 2% rate of post-op complications and very high rate of patient satisfaction. It is also the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with more than 3 million Americans undergoing cataract surgery each year. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision, somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40. Plus, new IOLs are being developed all the time to make the surgery less complicated for surgeons and the lenses more helpful to patients.
The Procedure and Recovery — What to Expect
The procedure itself takes about 10 minutes. This may vary with the surgeon. Our patients are usually are at the surgical center for about 1 ½ hours, including pre- and post-op preparations. The goal is to have the eye exposed for the shortest amount of time, with the surgeon making minimal small movements. Both precision and efficiency are required for best results and fastest healing.
Most people will have the operation, go home on the same day, and resume normal activities almost immediately – and most of our patients are back to driving in a just a few days.
Want to learn more? Check out these Cataract FAQs.