A cataract is a mild to severe vision impairment that is formed when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty. This is a gradual process that can happen as you get older. Corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses can usually correct slight refractive errors caused by early cataracts, but they cannot sharpen your vision if you are affected by a developed or severe cataract. If you experience cloudy vision, diminished colour vibrancy and difficulty reading without the aid of bright lights, you might have a cataract. Here are 10 things you need to know about cataracts.
In a normal eye, light is focussed by the cornea and the lens to form a sharp image on the retina at the back of the eye. As you age, the lens can become hazy and cause your vision to become blurred or hazy. This is called a cataract. The clouding of the lens occurs when protein fibres break down and clump together, causing the impairment or obstruction of your vision.
The main cause is age. Other causes of cataracts include trauma (eye injury), diseases such as diabetes, medications such as steroids, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light. Smoking has also been linked to the formation of cataracts. Cataracts typically develop slowly and progressively; it is a painless but irreversible process.
There are actually three types of cataract. The ‘nuclear sclerotic’ cataract is the most common one and refers to the hardening (i.e. clouding) of the central part of the lens. ‘Cortical’ cataracts affect the outside edge of the lens. Light entering the eye is scattered and this can create blurred vision and problems with depth perception. ‘Posterior subcapsular’ cataracts affect the back surface of the lens. Symptoms include ‘halo effects’.
The symptoms of a cataract are: blurry, cloudy or hazy vision; reduced colour intensity; increased sensitivity to light and glare, especially when driving at night; difficulty moving from shade to sunlit areas; double vision in a single eye; seeing ‘halos’ around lights; and frequent prescription changes for your eyeglasses or contact lenses. If you experience any of these symptoms you need to see your local optometrist right away.
A cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes a visual acuity test to measure how well you see at a distance, and a dilated eye exam, where drops are placed in your eyes to dilate (widen) the pupils. The optometrist may also test for signs of optic nerve or retina damage, and measure the pressure inside the eye.
More than 3.5 million Canadians are affected by cataracts. Cataracts affect men and women equally. Younger people can develop cataracts if they have an injury to the eye, and some medical conditions including diabetes or taking some sorts of medication may also cause cataracts.
The best advice to try to prevent cataracts, or to stop them getting worse, is to stop smoking and to wear quality sunglasses with UV protection. Limit your alcohol consumption and maintain a healthy weight and diet. In addition, never skimp on having a regular eye exam to check the health and performance of your eyes.
The only proven treatment for a cataract is surgery. If the cataract gets to the stage where it affects your sight and ability to function in your day-to-day life (for example, reading, cooking, driving), your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist, an eye surgeon. The surgery involves removing the cloudy lens (the cataract) and replacing it with a clear plastic one.
Most people will eventually develop a cataract in both eyes, although one eye may be affected before the other. If you have cataracts in both eyes, surgery will normally be carried out on one eye first. If you have a cataract removed from one eye, it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye at some point in the future.
There are various myths about cataracts, so here are some truths to dispel the most prevalent ones. Cataracts are irreversible; no eye drops can prevent or dissolve them. You can’t ‘wear out’ your eyes through repetitive tasks; no matter how much you read, write, sew, or drive, you won’t make your cataracts better or worse. Cataract surgery isn’t dangerous; it is a standard operation and has a very high success rate. Your eyes will heal quickly after surgery, and cataracts won’t grow back.
At iSight Optometry we have over 60 years experience in diagnosing and treating vision disorders such as cataracts. We have a team of three highly specialised doctors to care for your eyes, and this expert knowledge complements the fact that we are the most technologically advanced optometrist in Kelowna. Drop by for a visit or give us a call today to book your next appointment.