No one knows for sure why the eye’s lens changes as we age, forming cataracts. But over time the lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil, begins to cloud. This clouding of the lens is a cataract.
In a healthy eye, the lens works much like a camera focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye. It adjusts the eye’s focus letting us see things clearly. The lens is mostly made of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. As we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract and over time it may grow larger and cloud more of the area making it difficult to see clearly.
Some of the symptoms of cataracts are: slightly blurred vision, like looking through a cloudy piece of glass; light sensitivity causing glare and sensitivity to lights at night; or diminished brightness of colors.
The only way to be sure you have a cataract and to determine the proper treatment is to see your doctor for an eye examination. Initially, visual aids such as updated glasses, magnification and appropriate lighting may improve your vision. Eventually, you may be advised to consider cataract surgery, a surgical treatment to remove the clouded lens and in most cases replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States with over 1.5 million surgeries done each year. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery restore their vision to between 20/40 and 20/20, good enough to pass a driver’s test in most states.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cataract?
A cataract is characterized by the eye’s natural lens becoming cloudy. Without treatment, cataracts will get progressively worse. They can cause significant vision impairment and eventually lead to blindness if left untreated.
Who gets cataracts?
Most everyone will get cataracts at some point in their lives. Nearly every individual over 75 has at least one cataract. They are part of the natural aging process and are extremely common conditions. Cataracts can also form as a result of an injury to the eye, and have even been known to affect infants. Some diseases or steroid medications have also been shown to increase the potential for developing cataracts.
How do I know if I have a cataract?
Symptoms of cataracts may include blurry vision, sensitivity to light, cloudy vision, dulled vision, halo effects around lights, glare, ghost images or double-vision, a yellowing or fading effect on colors, and a high number of changes in corrective eyewear prescriptions. Regular eye exams are very important to diagnose cataracts as early as possible.
What is cataract surgery?
Traditional cataract surgery involves the removal of the cataract along with the eye’s natural lens. Typically, an intraocular lens is used to replace the natural lens. This often results in significantly improved vision – in fact, many patients experience better vision with the IOL than they had before the cataract.
Are lasers sometimes involved?
Our practice offers the LenSx® Femtosecond Laser for cataract removal. The LenSx® system is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and works to break up the cataract. Once the cataract has been fragmented by the laser, it is then removed from the membrane in the traditional fashion.
In some cases, where cataract surgery is performed without utilizing the laser technique, YAG lasers can be used in a follow-up procedure to create a clear opening if the membrane containing the eye’s lens becomes cloudy after the initial cataract removal.
You can read more about laser cataract surgery here.
What about recovery?
Cataract surgery is often performed on just one eye during the first appointment, and then the other eye is treated one to weeks later. Patients are given eye drops for the first few weeks after cataract surgery to aid the healing process, and we will schedule follow-up appointments to check on your progress. Most patients can return to normal daily routines within one week of the procedure.
For more information on cataract surgery, or to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced cataract surgeons, please contact Gordon-Weiss-Schanzlin Vision Institute today.