Eye Diseases Explained: Cataracts
Imagine looking at the world through a smudged, cloudy window. Unfortunately, this is the reality for roughly 20 million people living in the United States diagnosed with cataracts.
What are cataracts?
Cataracts are the clouding of the lens of one or both eyes, which can cause your vision to become blurry or dull in color. Vision occurs when light passes through a clear lens behind your eye's iris. The lens focuses thelight so your brain and eye can work together to process that information to form a picture. Unfortunately, when cataracts are present, the cloudy lens strains the brain's ability to process the image. In addition to cloudy and blurry vision, cataracts can cause:
- Sensitivity to bright lights, including both the sun and artificial lights
- An ongoing need to change both eyeglass and contact prescriptions
- Diplopia (double vision)
- Diffraction (a halo effect around lights)
- An overall change to the way you see colors
What causes cataracts?
Eyes are composed mainly of water and proteins, and those proteins can break down and clump together as you get older, eventually causing cataracts. Although age is the most common factor in developing cataracts, other risk factors can contribute to the diagnosis, including:
How to prevent cataracts
Although there are no proven ways to prevent cataracts, doctors believe the following habits could help avoid this condition:
- Wearing proper protection such as sunglasses or wide-brim hats (even in cloudy weather.
- Consuming foods high in vitamin C and D (oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, almonds)
- Scheduling routine eye exams (at least once every two years)
- Quitting smoking
- Cutting back on alcohol use
How to treat cataracts
Eventually, you may reach a point where the symptoms of a cataract are starting to affect your day-to-day life. When this happens, it's important that you schedule an appointment with your eye doctor immediately for a dilation. Your doctor can determine how much your vision is blocked by widening your pupil. Based on your doctor's findings, it's possible that they may recommend surgery.
Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most frequently performed surgeries in the U.S. Prior to the start of surgery, you will undergo anesthesia and receive numbing eye drops. The amount of anesthesia will ensure that you stay awake but do not feel any pain. During surgery, an ophthalmologist will start by removing the damaged lens. Then, using an artificial implant personalized to your vision needs, the doctor will place the new lens into your eye. After surgery, it's common to feel mild discomfort or itching, but after about three weeks, symptoms should be fully healed, and you can now enjoy your new and improved vision!