UPMC Eye Doctor: Understanding Cataracts
Wesley Adams, M.D.
Are you over the age of 40 and have blurred, cloudy, or foggy vision? If so, you may be dealing with cataracts.
Cataracts are the result of a normal aging process in which the eyes’ natural proteins gradually lose their clarity, clouding the natural lens inside of the eye. This clouding interferes with light passing to the back of the eye, causing the blurriness associated with cataract. The aforementioned symptoms are often the first to show, but a glare or halo around lights at night, increased difficulty driving at night, double vision in one eye, or a change in your eyeglass prescription also indicate cataract.
Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the world, and they affect more than 24 million Americans over the age of 40 and will affect half of Americans by the age of 75. The earlier you recognize cataract symptoms, the sooner you and your eye doctor can determine if cataract or some other problem is causing changes in your vision.
Routine eye exams help screen for cataracts. It is best to not opt out of dilation drops during these comprehensive exams, unless your doctor says otherwise. These drops may be a bit uncomfortable but are used to better examine the lenses and other parts of your eye.
If your doctor detects cataracts during your eye exam, they are categorized by the location or layer of the lens in which they are found:
- Nuclear – Start in the center of the lens and most likely caused by the hardening of the lens, a common age-related circumstance.
- Cortical – Appear as white spots or even wedges of cloudiness on the lens of the eye and move from the outer edges of the lens toward the center of the eye.
- Subcapsular – Cloudiness in the eye begins at the back of the lens and may create a halo effect and glare around lights.
Treatment and Prevention
Early on, cataracts may cause no symptoms at all. At times, when cataracts are still mild, you and your doctor may decide on simple measures like increasing light while reading, making adjustments to your eyeglass prescription, wearing anti-glare lenses, and the use of other vision aids like magnifying glasses.
If cataracts truly affect your quality and the activities of everyday life, surgery can be an option, especially when non-surgical treatments are not likely to work. Cataract surgery is a common procedure in which the cloudy lens is removed from the affected eye and replaced with an artificial lens implant.
If we live long enough, most of us will develop cataract and eventually need surgery. Age and genetics play a large role in the timing of cataract formation. Smoking, poor nutrition, diabetes, trauma, and exposure to the sun are all linked to the development of cataracts. While there is no definitive way to prevent cataract there are some simple steps you can take that may slow their formation. It is best to follow a healthy lifestyle and make changes for the health of your eyes with the following tips:
- Eye Protection – To prevent unwanted eye injuries, wear appropriate safety glasses when there’s risk of eye injury, especially when playing sports or using power tools.
- Quit Smoking – Smoking is not good for your health and is linked to an increased chance of developing cataracts.
- Eat a Healthy Diet – Leafy greens and fruits are full of antioxidants and vitamins that benefit not only your eyes, but your overall health.
- If you are Diabetic – Work with your doctor to control diabetes and blood sugar.
- Sun Protection – Wear a hat with a wide brim along with sunglasses to help block the sun.
Blurring from cataract is usually gradual and cataract itself does not cause pain. It takes an examination by an eye doctor to determine if your vision changes are caused by cataract or some other problem and if surgery is appropriate. Sudden or rapid changes in vision are unlikely to be caused by cataract and may represent some other eye emergency. If at any time you notice a change in your vision, it is important to schedule an eye examination and meet with an ophthalmologist to discuss your concerns.
Wesley Adams, M.D., is with UPMC Ophthalmology and sees patients at 1705 Warren Ave., Williamsport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Adams, call 570-320-7850. For more information, visit UPMC.com/VisionNCPA.