A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.
Are there other types of Cataract?
Yes. Although most cataracts are related to aging, there are other types of cataracts:
- Secondary cataract. Cataracts can form after surgery for other eye problems, such as glaucoma. Cataracts also can develop in people who have other health problems, such as diabetes. Cataracts are sometimes linked to steroid use.
- Traumatic cataract. Cataracts can develop after an eye injury, sometimes years later.
- Congenital cataract. Some babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood, often in both eyes. These cataracts may be so small that they do not affect vision. If they do, the lenses may need to be removed.
- Radiation cataract. Cataracts can develop after exposure to some types of radiation.
What causes Cataracts?
The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil (see diagram). It works much like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye's focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see. Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataract, such as smoking and diabetes. Or, it may be that the protein in the lens just changes from the wear and tear it takes over the years.
How can Cataracts affect my vision?
Age-related cataracts can affect your vision in two ways:
- Clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. The lens consists mostly of water and protein. When the protein clumps up, it clouds the lens and reduces the light that reaches the retina. The clouding may become severe enough to cause blurred vision. Most age-related cataracts develop from protein clumping. When a cataract is small, the cloudiness affects only a small part of the lens. You may not notice any changes in your vision. Cataracts tend to "grow" slowly, so vision gets worse gradually. Over time, the cloudy area in the lens may get larger, and the cataract may increase in size. Seeing may become more difficult. Your vision may get duller or blurrier.
- The clear lens slowly changes to a yellowish/brownish color, adding a brownish tint to vision. As the clear lens slowly colors with age, your vision gradually may acquire a brownish shade. At first, the amount of tinting may be small and may not cause a vision problem. Over time, increased tinting may make it more difficult to read and perform other routine activities. This gradual change in the amount of tinting does not affect the sharpness of the image transmitted to the retina. If you have advanced lens discoloration, you may not be able to identify blues and purples. You may be wearing what you believe to be a pair of black socks, only to find out from friends that you are wearing purple socks.
When are you most likely to have a Cataract?
The term "age-related" is a little misleading. You don't have to be a senior citizen to get this type of cataract. In fact, people can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s. But during middle age, most cataracts are small and do not affect vision. It is after age 60 that most cataracts steal vision.
Who is at risk for a Cataract?
The risk of cataract increases as you get older. Other risk factors for cataract include:
- Certain diseases such as diabetes.
- Personal behavior such as smoking and alcohol use.
- The environment such as prolonged exposure to sunlight.
What can I do to protect my vision?
Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.
If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataract, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.
Symptoms and Detection
The most common symptoms of a cataract are:
- Cloudy or blurry vision.
- Colors seem faded.
- Glare. Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright. A halo may appear around lights.
- Poor night vision.
- Double vision or multiple images in one eye. (This symptom may clear as the cataract gets larger.)
- Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
These symptoms also can be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional.
How is a Cataract detected?
Cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes:
- Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
- Dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
- Tonometry. An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.
Your eye care professional also may do other tests to learn more about the structure and health of your eye.
What happens during cataract surgery?
The Cataract Surgery Process
Great advances have been made in cataract surgery from the anesthesia level to the advanced lens implants used to replace the actual cataract. Millions of people undergo this vision-improving procedure every year and achieve excellent results. For patients, it's a simple operation. A tiny incision is made in the eye. Through this incision, the surgeon inserts an instrument, about the size of a pen tip. The surgeon uses gentle pulses of liquid to wash away your cloudy lens, or an ultrasonic instrument that breaks up and gently removes your cloudy lens. This process is called phaecoemulsification. Once the clouded lens has been removed, the next step is to replace it. That is, to implant an artificial lens that will do the work of your own lens. This artificial lens is referred to as an intraocular lens or IOL. Eye Associates of New Mexico cataract surgery specialists are well-trained and experienced ophthalmologists using only the best technology and state of the art lens implants.
Choosing Your Cataract Lens Implant
Before you undergo cataract surgery it is very important to discuss lens implant options. These new man made implants will replace your natural crystalline lens and will determine how well you see after cataract surgery. We suggest that you meet with one of our New Mexico cataract surgery experts to get a better understanding of the options available. These lens implants can fix astigmatism, some can help you see at multiple distances and others may mimic the movement of the natural lens.
After cataract surgery
Most patients are concerned about the cataract surgery recovery process. Our doctors at provide the best quality care and thoroughly explain what you can expect after cataract surgery. Recovery from cataract surgery is generally very quick. Most patients obtain better vision within the first 24 hours of the procedure. Itching and mild discomfort are normal after cataract surgery. Some fluid discharge is also common. Your eye may be sensitive to light and touch. If you have discomfort, your doctor can suggest treatment. After one or two days, any moderate discomfort should disappear. Complete visual recovery varies from patient to patient but most patients return to their every day activities within a day or two. If you have cataracts in both eyes, the second procedure will most likely be scheduled within a week or two. Your doctor will schedule exams to check on your progress. Each person heals differently so it is important to discuss the cataract surgery recovery with your eye doctor.
For a few days after surgery, your doctor may ask you to use eye drops to help healing and decrease the risk of infection. Ask your cataract eye doctor about how to use your eye drops, how often to use them, and what effects they can have. You will need to wear an eye shield or eyeglasses to help protect your eye. Avoid rubbing or pressing on your eye.