Cataracts

Many body parts begin to change as you age, and your eyes are no exception. One of the most common age-related eye changes is the development of cataracts. Although cataracts do not occur exclusively in older adults, they affect approximately half of all Americans by age 80.

What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded. The lens is a flexible, clear structure of the eye that changes shape to reflect light onto the retina. This allows your eye to focus light rays, transforming visual signals into a clear, sharp image.

As you get older, the tissue forming the lens grows less flexible, thicker, and less transparent. Slight degeneration of the tissue causes cloudy areas to form. As light passes through the lens, these cloudy areas scatter the rays and cause visual distortions. Many people report that having cataracts is like looking through a foggy windshield, as everything looks clouded. This can cause difficulties when driving, reading, and performing other everyday activities.

Age-related cataracts are the most common, but other types may also develop. Cataracts are associated with eye injuries, exposure to radiation, smoking, diabetes, steroid use, and surgery for other eye conditions. Cataracts can also be congenital, causing some babies to be born with cataracts.

Diagnosis of Cataracts

Checking for cataracts is a routine part of your annual vision exam. Your eye care provider will test your visual acuity using an eye chart to determine if you have any visual impairment. The eye doctor may also use a bright light to view your cornea, lens, and iris to note any changes to their anatomy. Small areas of clouding are visible when performing this test. Your eye care provider may also dilate your eyes and examine your lens for signs of cataracts.

Treatment Options

In their early stages, cataracts may cause only minor visual impairment. Using brighter lights for reading or getting an anti-glare coating on your glasses for night driving may be adequate treatments in the early stages. As cataracts grow, however, they can severely impair vision. Your doctor may recommend cataract surgery, in which the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Like all surgeries, cataract surgery carries some risk of infection or bleeding; however, it is considered a very safe surgery that is routinely performed worldwide.

Clouded vision due to cataracts can be very impairing, so it is important to monitor your eye health. An annual optometry exam will detect changes to your lens that may be early indicators of cataract development.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)

Characterized by a yellowish raised part of the scleral conjunctiva (the lining of the white part of the eye), a pinguecula usually develops near the cornea (colored part of the eye), but does not extend past it.

Uveitis

Uveitis refers to the inflammation of the eye's middle layer, which consists of the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. Several fungal, viral, or bacterial infections lead to uveitis, as do certain autoimmune (systemic) and inflammatory conditions...

Glare and Halos

Glare and halos are both eye symptoms that some people experience around bright lights. Halos show up as bright circles around a light source. Glare is light that interferes with your vision, making it difficult to see or sometimes making your eyes water.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States, making it an important public health priority. Although there are several factors that cause glaucoma, all types of glaucoma are characterized by damage to the optic nerve...

Sjogren's Syndrome

Pronounced SHOW-grins, Sjogren's syndrome is a disorder of the immune system, or an autoimmune disease, which causes the body's immune system to attack and harm the body's glands...

Optic Neuritis

Also known as demyelinating optic neuritis, optic neuritis refers to the inflammation of the optic nerve due to the loss of or damage to a protective covering called myelin, which surrounds the optic nerve...