- Signs and Symptoms
- Causes and Risk Factors
- Testing and Diagnosing
- Possible Complications
- Living With Cataracts
Normally, the lens in the eye should be clear, but when someone has cataract, the lens gets cloudy causing blur or diffuse vision.
The human eye has a lens that sits behind the pupil (black dot) and the iris (the colored part of the eye). The lens in the eye is made up of proteins and water. In cataract patients, the proteins in the lens are stacked or clumped resulting in hazy vision. The eye lens works very much like the lens in the camera. The lens focuses the light on the retina and helps in adapting the eye to see the object clearly.
Cataracts are very common and they most often start during middle age. A white frost is visible in the eyes of cataract patients.
In the beginning, the patient’s vision is not affected very much. But later due to blurred vision, it makes difficult to read, drive (mostly at night) or even read the expression on the face of a person. Cataract develops slowly; brighter light in the room or eye glasses may help in the beginning but when the cataract affects the daily activities, the patient would require cataract surgery.
Fortunately, the surgery is very safe and effective.
There are three primary types of cataracts, including:
- Nuclear cataract: This happens in the central area of the lens and it is most often caused by aging.
Subcapsular cataract: This is most common in those taking a lot of corticosteroid medications and those with diabetes. It happens on the back of the lens.
- Cortical cataract: This type of cataract has white, wedge-shaped changes and these start on the outer corners and work toward the center.
There are also some people who are born with cataract, but this is not common.
The signs and symptoms vary from person to person and how severe they are also varies.
The symptoms develop slowly and the vision is minimally affected in the beginning. In many cases, it takes few years when the vision starts to effect in performing daily activities.
Common symptoms include:
- Vision that is blurry, dim or cloudy
- Patient notices sunlight is too bright
- Sensitivity to glare and light
- Having to increase your contacts or glasses prescription frequently
- Double vision in one eye
- Problem seeing at night
- Seeing halos (white circles) around lights
- Colors start to fade or do not appear bright as before
It is not really known why people develop cataracts, but injury and aging are commonly associated with them. Some people have a cataract in just one eye, but in most cases, both eyes are affected, but they are affected differently. For example, a person can have cataract in both eyes at the same time, but one eye is more severely affected than the other.
As age progresses, the risk of cataract increases, but this does not mean that everyone of advanced age develops them. Other risk factors include:
- A family history of cataracts
- High blood pressure
- Using corticosteroid medications long-term
- History of surgery on the eyes
- Ultraviolet radiation, such as sunlight
- History of inflammation in the eye or an eye injury
- High level of nearsightedness
An eye examination and learning about the medical history are the first steps of the process. The doctor will look at the symptoms to see if they match up with cataracts. The doctor may also want to do some testing to make an accurate diagnosis, including:
- Visual acuity testing: This is a test in which the patient looks at a chart and read the lines. This helps to see how good the patient’s vision is in each eye.
- Retinal examination: During this test, the eyes are dilated with the help of special drops. This widens the pupil (the black part of the eye) so that the doctor can see inside. The doctor want to look at the retina to look for any strange changes.
- Slit-lamp examination: This exam uses a special type of lamp and the eyesare magnified so that the doctor can see any odd changes in the front eye structures.
The only known treatment for cataracts is to have them surgically repaired. Surgery is usually recommended when cataracts start to cause symptoms that make it hard to complete the normal daily tasks. This is not an urgent surgery, so that the appropriate time can be chosen
In case surgery is delayed, the doctor will likely want to check the eyes at regular intervals to monitor the cataracts until the surgery is performed.
Cataract surgery is a relatively quick and simple procedure and in most cases, the patient can go home shortly after the procedure is done. During the procedure, eyes are numbed from local anesthesia, but most patients are kept awake.
The doctor makes small incisions in the numbed eye tissues and then removes the affected lens from the eye. This lens is replaced with an artificial plastic lens. The procedure itself is very quick and many patient completes the full procedure in few hours.
The surgery is relatively safe and the first stage of recovery only takes about a week. Overall, complete healing takes about eight weeks.
Throughout the world, up to 51 percent of people are blind due to cataracts. Even those who do not develop blindness may find that it is hard to get through the day and complete regular activities, such as reading, preparing meals and moving safely throughout their home.
Majority of cataracts patient have their vision restored to a higher level after the surgery. However, before surgery there are things that patient can do to protect their eyes and improve the quality of life, including:
- Get eyeglasses that are an accurate prescription to improve sight
- Improve home's lighting
- Avoid driving at night and on very dark days
- To read, use a magnifying glass
- Reduce glare by wearing sunglasses outside