Cataracts are a common eye condition. Cataracts occur when the natural lens inside the eye becomes cloudy. As we age, proteins in the lens start to break down and clump together. This can cause blurry or distorted vision over time.
Cataracts are the most common cause of blurred vision for people who are over the age of fifty.
There are many kinds of cataracts, but these three are by far the most common:
- Nuclear cataracts are usually the result of aging. They form in the center, or nucleus, of the lens.
- Cortical cataracts form around the nucleus of the lens and resemble spokes in a wheel. They’re associated with aging and diabetes.
- Subcapsular cataracts form behind the lens. They’re associated with the use of steroid medication and diabetes.
Who Gets Cataracts?
There are several risk factors when it comes to cataracts. The most common risk factors for developing cataracts include:
- Being over 40
- Exposure to Ultraviolet light
- Poor nutrition
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Use of corticosteroids
While you can’t prevent cataracts, you can control some of these factors to lower your risk. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to lower your chances of developing cataracts at an earlier age.
What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?
Cataracts tend to develop slowly, so it can be hard to attribute visual changes to them if you don’t know you have them. This is one of the reasons why regular eye exams are so important. Cataracts do not cause any pain, discomfort, tearing, or redness.
Cataracts often start to develop around the age of forty or fifty, but you may not realize you have them. Having regular eye exams is the best way for your eye doctor to watch for cataracts and diagnose them early.
If you do have cataracts, they will be able to keep a close watch on their progression.
Cataract symptoms include:
– Blurry vision
– Decreased night vision
– Glare and halos
– Difficulty seeing contrast
– Double vision in one eye
Cataracts can be tricky to spot as some symptoms can be mistaken for presbyopia. Presbyopia is a common age-related condition that makes it harder to see up-close.
This is because as we get older, the lens in the eye becomes less flexible. With presbyopia, this makes it much harder to focus on up-close objects.
Individuals with cataracts may perceive decreased ability to see up-close. This is usually because they need more light, especially when reading or completing fine-focus tasks.
Diagnosis by an eye care professional is the only way to know whether you have cataracts. If any of these symptoms seem familiar, make an appointment to see your eye doctor as soon as possible.
What Causes Cataracts?
In most cases, cataracts are merely caused by the natural aging process. Cataracts can also develop because of birth defects, injuries, diabetes, or the prolonged use of certain medications, like steroids.
Cataracts are not a disease. They do not occur at the same age or rate in everyone.
When Should Cataracts Be Removed?
Making the decision to have your cataracts removed is elective. Cataracts do not harm other parts of the eye. If having cataracts is not bothering you, nothing needs to be done.
Most surgeons will not perform the procedure until cataracts impact your daily life. This means that you have difficulty completing tasks like reading, computer work, cooking, or driving.
If cataracts are making it too difficult to complete tasks in your routine, it’s time for surgery. Because cataracts form in the eye’s lens, the only way to do this is to remove the lens itself.
There is no longer any reason to wait for cataracts to “ripen” before having cataract surgery. This is because of the success of the modern lens implant.
Cataracts will never improve and instead eventually worsen. There is no advantage in delaying treatment if your vision is affected and you’ll regain clear vision after surgery.
How Do You Treat Cataracts?
If you have cataracts, the only way to treat them is to have them removed with cataract surgery. Although this is the only way to treat cataracts, you may not need surgery right away.
Cataract surgery involves removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. While it may sound daunting to have your lens removed, cataract surgery is a simple procedure from the patient’s perspective. By removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial one, patients can achieve clear vision.
How Does Cataract Surgery Work?
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure. This means that it’s performed in a surgery center where the patient is treated and sent home the same day. The surgery itself only takes a few painless steps:
– First, the surgeon will have the patient sedated so they can remain calm during the surgery. Although the patient is sedated, they remain awake.
They also use anesthetic eye drops that numb the eye, so the patient feels no pain during surgery.
– Once the anesthetic eye drops take effect, the surgeon then makes a very small opening in the eye. They insert a small, ultrasonic instrument through this opening.
This helps to break apart the lens. In some instances, they may use a laser to soften the lens first.
– After breaking up the lens, the surgeon inserts another small instrument that acts as a gentle vacuum. This removes the broken pieces of the lens. With this, the cataract is now fully removed.
– Although the cataract is now gone, the patient is left without a lens. Before modern cataract surgery, this was where the surgery ended.
Patients would have to wear very thick glasses to be able to see at all. But thanks to modern science, we now have the IOL, or intraocular lens.
An IOL is an artificial lens implant that replaces the natural lens. The surgeon inserts the folded-up IOL through the same small opening. The IOL then automatically unfurls to act as the patient’s lens.
That’s all there is to it! No stitches are necessary thanks to the size of the openings. They simply heal on their own.
Is Cataract Surgery Safe?
All surgery, no matter how small, carries some risk. Cataract surgery does come with some risk, but fortunately, significant complications are very rare.
Because cataract surgery is so common, most experienced surgeons have performed the procedure thousands of times.
What Artificial Lens Implant Should I Choose?
If you have cataracts, you are considering cataract surgery because your cataracts make it hard for you to see well, even with glasses. After cataract surgery, you should be able to see well at all distances. This includes far, mid-range, and near distances. What artificial lens implant you choose will affect your ability to see without glasses after cataract surgery.
There are three categories of artificial lenses for cataract patients to choose from:
- Single focus (monofocal)
- Bifocal (also called a multifocal because it has separate focal points)
- Extended focus
There are four primary zones or distances that we need to be able see:
1. Far distance (road signs, distant animals, movie screens)
2. Indoor distances (pictures on the wall, faces across the dinner table, TV 8 feet away)
3. Arm’s length (dashboard, store shelves, stove, desktop computer)
4. Reading distance
The eye is like a camera in that it must constantly shift focus from far to near and other distances in between. When we are young, our eyes can constantly and automatically change shape to adjust focus. This is like the eye being an “auto-focus” camera where the focus can be instantly adjusted.
With age, this is no longer possible. Instead, we must manually change the focus. We do this by either switching between glasses for the different distances we need to see or by using bifocal, trifocal, or progressive glasses.
Progressive glasses let us see all four zones by looking through different parts of the lens like we had four different pairs of glasses stacked on top of each other.
With the standard single focus artificial lens implant (monofocal), you can select which of the four zones you want to see without wearing glasses. You must wear glasses if you want to see any of the other zones.
Bifocal lens implants (multifocal) are designed to produce a dual focus, meaning they can focus on more than one distance. With a bifocal lens implant, part of the lens is set for distance focus (zone 1) while part of the lens is then set for reading distance (zone 4).
Having bifocal lens implants can significantly reduce your dependence on reading glasses.
Extended focus lens implants provide continuous focus over a range of distances. This lens implant is a good option for patients that want good natural focus without glasses when outdoors and indoors distances, as well as at mid-range distances, like zones 1, 2, and 3.
If the shape of the cornea is imperfect, it creates a natural blur or misfocus called astigmatism. Astigmatism is a refractive error that causes blurry vision.
For patients with astigmatism, astigmatism correction can be put into the lens implant instead. This is something easily incorporated into each of the three lens implant categories. Any lens containing astigmatism correction is called a toric lens.
Learn more about if cataract surgery is right for you by taking our free online cataract self-test today!
Do you or a loved one need cataract surgery? Schedule a cataract screening at Complete EyeCare West in Columbus, OH today!