Cataracts affect practically everyone over the age of 75. Even though they are common, they can still be challenging to navigate. Progressive vision loss can be a scary and uncomfortable experience for a parent or grandparent. Arming yourself with information about cataracts is one great way to help your loved one. For instance, did you know that most cataracts can be treated with a common one-hour surgery? Keep reading for more helpful insights.
What is a cataract? A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, affecting vision. Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes and can spread from one eye to the other.
What causes cataracts? Cataracts are most common in, but not exclusive to, the elderly. As we age, the proteins that form the lens of the eye may start to clump, creating blurriness. Researchers have identified several possible causes of this clumping, including smoking, diabetes, and simple wear and tear.
What are common cataract symptoms? Common cataract symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, poor night vision, glare, and faded colors. These may also indicate other vision problems, so always consult an eye care professional to be sure.
When do cataracts typically set in? Cataracts develop slowly over time: they most commonly affect individuals over age 50, impact roughly half the population over age 65, and are present in practically everyone over age 75. As noted below, however, they are not exclusive to the elderly.
Are all cataracts the same? Age-related cataracts are the most common type, but there are several others:
- Secondary cataracts can develop as a result of eye surgery (such as for glaucoma) as well as diabetes and steroid use.
- Congenital cataracts affect infants and may be hereditary or result from the mother having German measles or another infectious disease during pregnancy.
- Traumatic cataracts can occur after an eye injury, even years later.
- Radiation cataracts can result after exposure to radiation.
Are cataracts reversible? Yes, in the early stages, anti-glare glasses, magnifying lenses, and brighter lighting all help ease the symptoms of cataracts. As a cataract grows and vision loss interferes with everyday activities, surgery provides an effective treatment.
What is cataract surgery like? Cataract surgery is a commonly performed procedure that takes about an hour. During surgery, the doctor makes an incision in the eye, which allows a laser to reach and remove the natural lens. The lens then gets replaced with a clear implant. Patients usually don’t require stitches and can go home (with a chaperone) the same day.
Are there side effects of cataract surgery? As with any surgery, infection, swelling, bleeding and pain may occur. These can usually be managed by carefully following aftercare instructions. Sometimes, a follow-up procedure may be necessary. More seriously, cataract surgery correlates with a higher likelihood of retinal detachment, a condition that should be treated as an emergency. Common signs include a sudden increase in visual flashes or “floaters,” the little specks or cobwebs that sometimes drift across the eye.
What are the differences between cataracts and glaucoma? Cataracts occur when proteins on the eye’s lens clump or thicken. Glaucoma, by contrast, results from damage to the optic nerve, which transmits information from the eye to the brain. Once the cells in the optic nerve become injured, they cannot be repaired. Thus, while cataracts are reversible, glaucoma is not. Early detection and prevention remain the best defense against glaucoma.
What are the differences between cataracts and macular degeneration? Deterioration of the macula, the small, center portion of the retina that controls visual sharpness, defines age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This affects the ability to read text, recognize faces, drive, watch television, etc. AMD is not reversible, though healthy diet, exercise, and wearing UVA/UVB-protected sunglasses may help prevent it.
Sources All About Vision National Eye Institute The Glaucoma Foundation