One of the more common eye conditions that I see on a weekly basis are cataracts. However, I think they are very often misunderstood. I would like to share the truth about cataracts and share a little bit about what to do when you have a cataract and what you can do to try to prevent them.
A cataract affects the part of the eye that is called the crystalline lens. This lens is located behind the iris (colored part of the eye) and the pupil (see picture below). It is a very clear structure that is responsible for focusing light or images onto the back of the eye called the retina. Although focusing light is one of the main functions of the lens; it is also responsible for absorbing ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. This is design to help protect the retina which is very sensitive to UV radiation.
The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that allows the lens to be clear. As we age these proteins can begin to clump together and cause the lens to cloud. This clouding is referred to as a cataract. There are many different types of cataracts. They are categorized by eye doctors based on the location within the lens and the amount of clouding. The cloudier the lens becomes, the more it begins to impact a person’s vision.
There are many causes of cataracts, they include aging, too much exposure to sunlight without sunglasses, diabetes, smoking, certain medications, and particularly steroids have been linked to cataract formation. When a person is diagnosed with a cataract is does not mean that they have really poor vision, in fact, it can take several years for many cataracts to impact vision significantly. The symptoms of cataracts included: cloudy or blurred vision, colors seem faded, poor night vision, increased glare and halos at night, double vision in one eye, or changes in the eyeglasses or contact lens prescription.
The symptoms of cataracts can also be signs of other eye problems, so if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to schedule an eye examination. If a person is diagnosed with a cataract, it may or may not require surgery. When the cataract is causing a decrease in vision that begins to limit a person’s quality of life and it cannot be improved by a change in the eye glass prescription; the eye doctor will recommend cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is the only way to eliminate the cataract. It is an outpatient procedure that a surgeon removes the cloudy lens and replaces the lens with an artificial lens. It has evolved into a fairly simple procedure any many people are able to achieve very good vision after their surgery.
The best way to try to prevent a cataract from worsening is by wearing sunglasses while outside, not smoking, and eating a diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fruits that contain anti-oxidants. Yearly eye examinations are recommended for people with mild cataracts and the doctor will monitor the clouding and manage any visual changes. By age 80, over half of all Americans either have been diagnosed with cataracts or have had cataract surgery. The best way to find out if you have a cataract is to see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye examination that includes dilation.
Dr. Laura Young is an optometrist at Premier Family Eye Care in Indian Trail. www.premierfamilyeye.com. Call 70-821-EYES (3937) for an appointment today! Eye photo from the National Eye Institute.