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Facts about Cataracts: Who’s at Risk?

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Who's at risk?
Who’s at risk?

As people get older, they may notice their vision starts to decrease in quality. This can be due to a number of factors but one of the most common age-related diseases of the eyes is cataracts. Cataracts occur when the eye lens becomes discolored and blocks light coming through the pupil.

Millions of people suffer from cataracts and there are several treatment options to restore vision. Although cataracts are not really preventable, a few lifestyle changes can minimize the risk. Cataract surgery seems difficult, but it is actually a short procedure with many long-term benefits. Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center can make cataract surgery as pleasant as possible.

What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are a condition that describes the clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye. Colors may appear muted.

The crystalline lens is a clear lens that allows light to focus on the retina, which is what’s needed to see images. This lens is flexible and changes shape based on where the eye is trying to focus. As people get older, or based on other risk factors, eye lens starts to lose its flexibility and become hardened and yellow, and vision becomes less clear. An eye doctor makes an official diagnosis of cataracts.

One sign that people usually notice first is the significantly reduced ability to drive easily at night.

Symptoms of Cataracts

Many symptoms of cataracts are not always obvious. For many people it takes years before they realize their vision has become severely impaired. Cataracts usually develop slowly, so often people slowly adjust their lifestyles to accommodate the change. Contact an eye doctor for a thorough examination if you notice that:

  • colors appear faded
  • vision is often blurred
  • glare is increasingly more problematic
  • poor night vision
  • double vision
  • vision glasses/contact prescriptions frequently change

These symptoms can also be signs of other vision concerns, so it is important to identify the source of any problems with a thorough eye exam.

Different Types of Cataracts

There are different kinds of cataracts with several possible causes.

Some cataracts develop only in the nucleus of the lens, creating a nuclear cataract. Nuclear cataracts, generally attributed to age, are the most common form of cataracts. A second kind is a cortical cataract, which affects the lens cortex. Finally, a cataract that forms in the outer capsule of the lens is known as a subcapsular cataract.

Some of the cause of cataracts include:

  • Cataracts that develop with age are sometimes called senile cataracts.
  • Secondary cataracts describe the diagnosis of cataracts in conjunction with another condition, such as diabetes, medications (especially steroids), or other eye surgeries.
  • Eye injuries can trigger a traumatic cataract.
  • Some people are born with congenital cataracts.
  • There are those who acquire cataracts after they are exposed to radiation.

Although people can develop cataracts at any time, in one or both eyes, the condition does not spread from one eye to the other.

Diagnosis

Cataracts are a common vision concern, especially for older adults. Nationwide, about 17 percent of Americans over the age of 40 currently have or have received treatment for cataracts

That percentage increases dramatically with age, to the point that more than half of all people over 80 have or have had trouble with cataracts. There are ways doctors assess the condition of eyes, related to cataracts: visual acuity, dilated eye exam, and tonometry.

An eye physician tests visual acuity, which is the ability to see things clearly. He or she may also perform a dilated eye exam, where pupils are both relaxed and dilated. This is the best way to examine lens and retina for signs of damage. Also,  doctors use tonometry, a measurement of the pressure inside the eye.

Risk Factors and Causes

Age is the most common risk factor for cataracts, but there are other risk factors to consider.

Certain diseases, such as diabetes, and certain medications, such as steroids, may also increase the risk of developing cataracts earlier.

Certain behaviors increase the likelihood of developing cataracts over time. Smoking or spending a lot of time in unprotected sunlight are two main causes. Cataracts are generally a slow-accumulating condition, so years of exposure to contaminants and ultraviolet rays take their toll.

What Do Cataracts Look Like?

There are two ways cataracts advance.

The first is the slow fade or clouding of the clarity of the eye’s lens, which makes it harder to distinguish colors – everything seems yellow or brown. The second is a collection or clumping of protein in the lens. When the proteins collect together, they obstruct the lens. As the cataract grows, blurry vision and other troubles will expand and become more prevalent in daily life.

Minimizing the Risk

Although cataracts are a common part of getting older, if they are going to happen, they can be delayed. After 60 years old, plan to have a comprehensive exam with an ophthalmologist every two years. People who develop diabetes should plan to get a dilated eye exam every year. The second best thing to do is to wear sunglasses with 99 percent UVA and UVB rays protection. Add a hat with a 3” brim to protect the parts sunglasses do not cover. Ultimately, regular exams with your eye doctor is the best way to manage cataracts.

When to Get Help

Because cataracts accumulate so slowly, some people do not get help when they first notice they are losing their ability to see clearly. However, getting help as soon possible provides the greatest chance of protecting and restoring vision.

Since a rapidly changing vision prescription is a common sign of cataracts, this should be a clear signal to request a comprehensive eye exam. Going in for an exam also gives doctors the opportunity to check all other eye functions and to address any other troubles such as age-related macular degeneration and/or glaucoma

Treatment Options

As awareness of cataracts increases, more and more people seek treatment to improve their vision. In the past 15 years, the rate at which people have cataract surgery for a second eye after surgery on the first eye has doubled. Some people with early-stage cataracts do not require surgery immediately. Their vision problems may be solved temporarily by actions such as:

  • changing their prescription
  • adding magnifying lenses
  • using brighter lights

However, if this does not improve vision, surgery becomes the top consideration.

What is Cataract Surgery?

There are several different types of surgery to remove the crystalline lens. LenSx or laser-assisted cataract surgery allows for greater precision in performing catarct surgery. The surgeon uses a laser to make very tiny incisions to help enter the eye and to help fragment the cataract in order to help remove the lens swiftly and fully. Once the lens has been removed, the surgeon can prepare to perform lens replacement surgery, with a intra-ocular artificial lens implant.

Lens Replacement Surgery

In decades past, you had to wear thick glasses or special contact lenses after cataract surgery, but better options exist now. The typical lens replacement is called an intraocular lens — IOL for short An IOL replaces the crystalline lens.

Thanks to recent technological developments Advanced Technology Lenses or multifocal IOLs fit different vision needs to provide better results to meet the patient expectations. During a preoperative appointment a surgeon will discuss options for IOLs that may resolve many vision problems. Previous LASIK eye surgery requires additional evaluation to properly determine the best plan for your vision needs.

Recovering From Cataract Surgery

Although the process seems complicated, cataract surgery is actually not a very long procedure, nor is it particularly painful. The procedure itself may be as short as 30 minutes, and does not require general anesthesia. When the surgery is done, people can go home and rest after a short recovery time.

Blurred vision is not uncommon right after surgery, but general improves day-by-day as the healing process occurs. Glasses or contact lenses may still be needed. However, with advanced technology lens options, we have the ability to now reduce your dependence on full-time glasses/contact lens correction.

Cataracts are a part of getting older for millions of Americans. Continuing to learn how to minimize risks for developing cataracts is the best path to avoiding them and seeking better treatment. Getting cataract surgery and lens replacement is not particularly taxing and can improve vision for years to come. With the experts at Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center, count on professional, attentive care at all stages of the process.





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