Don’t suffer in silence if your vision isn’t what it used to be, especially if there’s a simple fix. Cataracts could be the culprit. A cataract is a clouding of the lens and are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
A cataract can occur in either or both eyes, but doesn’t spread from one eye to the other.
What causes cataracts?The lens is behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye's focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. As we age, protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract; possibly caused by:
What are the symptoms of cataracts?The most common symptoms of a cataract are:
These symptoms also can be a sign of other eye problems, so check with your eye care professional.
How is a cataract treated?The symptoms of early cataract may improve with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment and involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
A cataract needs to be removed only when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities, such as driving, reading or watching TV. You and your eye care professional can make this decision together. You do not have to rush into surgery. If you have cataracts in both eyes that require surgery, the surgery is performed on each eye at separate times, usually four weeks apart.
Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It is also one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward.
What are the risks of cataract surgery?As with any surgery, cataract surgery poses risks, such as infection and bleeding. Before cataract surgery, your doctor may ask you to temporarily stop taking certain medications that increase the risk of bleeding during surgery.
Cataract surgery slightly increases your risk of retinal detachment. Other eye disorders, such as high myopia (nearsightedness), can further increase your risk of retinal detachment after cataract surgery.
Talk to your eye care professional about these risks. Make sure cataract surgery is right for you.
What happens during surgery?Drops will be put into your eye to dilate the pupil. The area around your eye will be cleaned. The operation usually lasts less than one hour and is almost painless. Many people choose to stay awake during surgery. Others may need to be put to sleep for a short time. If you are awake, you will have an anesthetic to numb the nerves in and around your eye. After the operation, a patch may be placed over your eye. Most people can go home the same day, but you’ll need a driver.
When will my vision be normal again?In most cases, healing is complete within eight weeks. You can return quickly to many everyday activities, but your vision may be blurry. The healing eye needs time to adjust so that it can focus properly with the other eye, especially if the other eye has a cataract. Ask your doctor when you can resume driving.
What can I do to protect my vision?Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataracts. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition helps reduce the risk of age-related cataracts. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit and other foods with antioxidants.
If you are age 60 or older, have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataracts, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and other vision disorders. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.