What is a cataract? A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or yellowed.
There are many misconceptions about cataracts. A cataract is not:
- a film over the eye;
- caused by overusing the eyes;
- spread from one eye to the other;
- a cause of irreversible blindness.
Common symptoms of a cataract include:
- a painless blurring of vision;
- light sensitivity;
- poor night vision;
- double vision in one eye;
- needing brighter light to read;
- fading or yellowing of colors.
The amount and pattern of cloudiness within the lens can vary. If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that a cataract is present.
What causes a cataract?
- family history;
- medical problems, such as diabetes;
- injury to the eye;
- medications, especially steroids;
- long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight;
- previous eye surgery;
- unknown factors.
How is a cataract detected?
A thorough eye examination by your ophthalmologist can detect the presence of a cataract, as well as any other conditions that may be causing blurred vision or other eye problems.
Problems with other parts of the eye (e.g. cornea, retina, optic nerve) can be responsible for vision loss and may prevent you from having much or any improvement in vision after cataract surgery. If improvement in your vision is unlikely, cataract removal may not be recommended. Your ophthalmologist can tell you how much visual improvement is likely.
How fast does a cataract develop?
How quickly the cataract develops varies among individuals, and may even be different between the two eyes. Most age-related cataracts progress gradually over a period of years.
Other cataracts, especially in younger people and people with diabetes, may progress rapidly over a short time. It is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will develop in any given person.
How is a cataract treated?
Surgery is the only way a cataract can be removed. However, if symptoms of a cataract are not bothering you very much, surgery may not be needed. Sometimes a simple change in your eyeglass prescription may be helpful.
There are no medications, dietary supplements, or exercises that have been shown to prevent or cure cataracts.
Protection from excessive sunlight may help slow the progression of cataracts. Sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet (UV) light rays or regular eyeglasses with a clear, anti-UV coating offer this protection.
What can I expect from cataract surgery?
Over 1.4 million people have cataract surgery each year in the United States, and more than 95% of those surgeries are performed with no complications.
During cataract surgery, which is usually performed under local or topical anesthesia as an outpatient procedure, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye. In most cases, the focusing power of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens implant.
Your ophthalmologist performs this delicate surgery using a microscope, miniature instruments, and other modern technology.