What is a Cataract?
A cataract is a cloudiness of the lens in your eye that prevents light from being focused clearly on the retina, which can impair your vision. (See below animation) Cataracts sometimes remain small and unnoticeable. But with more developed cataracts, it's like viewing the world through a foggy window.
Normally, light passes through the clear lens and is focused onto the Retina. However, the natural aging process can cause the lens to become cloudy. The Cataract or cloudy lens blocks the passage of light through the eye and causes distorted or blurred vision, glare, or difficulty seeing in poor lighting conditions.
With the formation of a cataract, activities like reading, bowling, or driving can be difficult. Fortunately, vision can be restored quickly, allowing the patient to return home within a few hours. With new advances in cataract surgery, vision improvement begins almost immediately, and an eye patch isn't even needed.
Cataract surgery is the most common operation in the world. In the United States, more than 2.7 million procedures are performed annually. (National Institutes of Health)
There are 20.5 million cases of early cataracts among Americans aged 40 and older, and 50 percent of people older than 65 have developed significant cataracts. (National Institutes of Health)
Signs You May Have Cataracts
Most cataracts are caused by natural aging. Old, dead cells build up in your eyes' lenses, causing them to become cloudy. When light passes through the lens to the retina, images become distorted and your vision is impaired.
Cataracts tend to develop slowly and can take years to mature. Because there isn't a sudden overnight deterioration, you may not be able to detect the symptoms of cataracts or the effect they have on your vision. An annual visit to your eye care professional can help identify cataracts early on, but there are symptomsyou can look for, including:
- Cloudy vision
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Halos around lights
- Frequent changes in glasses or contacts prescriptions
- Double vision in one eye Poor night vision Light sensitivity
Who Develops Cataracts?
- More than half of all Americans age 65 and older have cataracts.1 Because cataracts are a natural part of the aging process, everyone is eventually at risk.
The most evident cause of cataracts is aging, but there are other factors that increase your risk of developing cataracts. These include:
- Extensive exposure to sunlight Long-term use of steroid medication
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye injury or inflammation in the eye
- Previous eye surgery (the most common cause of cataracts in people under 40)
- Family history of cataracts
Because cataracts can deteriorate your vision slowly over the years, you may not notice the effect they have on your daily activities. Fortunately, our doctors at PAJE Optometric can help you detect cataracts early through standard eye and retinal examinations.
The Importance of Eye Exams
After a standard vision test, our doctors will dilate your pupil to examine the lens and other parts of your eye. These annual eye exams are especially important as you age so that you can diagnose cataracts as they start developing and respond accordingly. It is important to make sure your glasses or contact lenses are strong enough to compensate for your decreased vision. As your cataracts develop, you can discuss with our doctors whether surgery would be beneficial.
At PAJE Optometric, we have a specialized technology, know as the HD Analyzer, that assesses the quality of your lens and assists our doctors in determining if a change in your lens clarity is beginning to effect your vision. This technology also allows for early Cataract detection and can help monitor Cataract growth.
Because cataracts are a natural result of the aging process, there is no proven way to prevent them. The most important thing to do is to have your eyes regularly examined by your eye care professional to ensure that if or when they do form, you can take the appropriate measures.
However, there have been numerous studies linking certain behaviors to cataract risk. By following these steps, you may slow down their development:
- Have your vision checked regularly for early detection.
- Wear sunglasses or a hat to block ultraviolet rays when you're outdoors.
- Quit smoking. Smoking has been linked to higher odds of developing cataracts.
- Follow your treatment plan if you have a medical condition that can increase your risk of cataracts such as diabetes or hypothyroidism.
- Wear protective eyewear when active to avoid eye trauma.
- Eat healthier to ensure you're getting plenty of vitamins and antioxidants. Evidence has shown that certain nutrients found in foods like fruits, vegetables and fish can help slow the aging process of the eye.
Am I a Candidate for Cataract Surgery?
Because cataracts develop slowly, it can be difficult to pinpoint a specific time when cataract surgery becomes necessary. It can be delayed after diagnosis, but eventually, corrective glasses or contacts may not be enough, and surgery becomes inevitable. The biggest indication that surgery is necessary is when your cataracts affect daily tasks like reading or driving.
You should begin by consulting your eye care doctor. He or she will review your medical history and determine if you need cataract surgery. Then you can begin to discuss which specific cataract surgery option is best for you.
Questions for Your Eye Care Professional
Having a basic understanding of the procedure beforehand will help facilitate the conversation, as will having some prepared questions such as:
- How advanced are my cataracts?
- Which type of intraocular lens (IOL) would I benefit most from?
- Will any of my current prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs complicate the surgery or recovery process?
- What will my vision be like after recovery?
- How much does cataract surgery cost?
- Who will perform the actual surgical procedure?
- What is the post-surgery follow-up process?
Understanding the Surgery
Cataract surgery is the only way to remove a cataract from your eye in order to restore your vision. It is one of the most common and effective surgical procedures performed in the U.S. and one of the safest as well.
It's important to understand that just because you have cataracts, you don't necessarily need surgery. You can manage them for years with glasses and contact lenses. It is only when your cataracts start to interfere with your daily activities that you need to consider surgery.
Annual visits to your eye care professional are important as you age so he or she can track developments in your cataracts. With an understanding of your lifestyle and the history of your eye care, your eye care professional will be able to make recommendations on whether surgery is necessary and which type of artificial lens you should get.
Costs and Insurance
A portion of traditional cataract surgery is usually covered by private insurance or Medicare. It is important to note that many advanced technology artificial intraocular lenses (IOLs) that correct other visual impairments, such as astigmatism, may not be fully covered, but many eye care professionals also offer payment plans. The specific out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on where you live and what type of intraocular lens you have implanted.