As you grow older, you may notice your vision getting blurry and colors appearing to fade. You may think that it’s simply age-related sight loss and that there’s nothing you can do besides getting a stronger lens prescription. However, you may actually be developing cataracts, a treatable condition that made lead to further vision loss if not addressed.
Cataracts are caused when proteins build up on your eye’s lens. The lens itself is made up of water and protein, and while the lens usually stays clear, certain situations can cause the old cells on the lens to form together in a compacted, cloudy mass. The mass usually grows over time, forcing you to see the world through a fog.
You can tell that your vision problems are caused by cataracts and not another issue if you notice halos around light sources, increased glare, dimmer colors, a brownish or yellowish tint to your vision, or a blurry view of the world. You might also be able to see a white cloudy substance forming on the lens, but this isn’t always visible.
Causes of Cataracts
There are actually three distinct types of cataracts, all afflicting the lens differently and all caused by different factors:
- Nuclear cataracts develop due to age. Your lens simply hardens over time, particularly if you’re genetically predisposed to developing cataracts. Lifestyle factors like exposure to UV radiation or smoking can lead to cataract build-up over time. Nuclear cataracts develop in the center of the lens.
- Subcapsular cataracts develop due to steroid use, diabetes, or extreme nearsightedness. They form on the backside of the lens and often develop very quickly.
- Cortical cataracts form at the periphery of the lens and slowly extend inward. Small fissures develop along the lines of the cataract, causing light to break up, which affects your depth perception and your ability to see clearly. These cataracts are linked to diabetes as well.
Cataracts can also form if you experience an eye injury or infection. Though cataracts are generally considered to be related to old age, babies can also develop cataracts if they experience an injury within the womb.
Preventing and Treating Cataracts
Maintaining a nutritious diet and generally protecting your eyes are good ways to prevent cataracts from ever developing, although they aren’t guarantees. Antioxidants like vitamin 3 and omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent cataracts, and wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and stop the sun from damaging the lens.
If cataracts have started developing despite your best efforts at prevention, the first line of treatment is to improve your vision with glasses or contacts. If glare, especially from headlights when you’re driving at night, is the major issue, your eye doctor can prescribe some anti-glare glasses. You can also improve the lighting of your environment to make it easier to see.
Once these measure no longer prove effective, your eye doctor will likely recommend surgery. Cataracts can’t be cured and will only worsen over time, so to increase your quality of life and ability to perform daily tasks, you’ll need to remove the damaged lens.
Cataract surgery is quick, effective, and safe. It’s one of the most frequently performed surgeries in the country and proves successful 90 percent of the time. It only takes about an hour to perform, and you can go home the same day. You might not even need to be completely sedated during the procedure.
During the surgery, your eye doctor will make a small incision to remove the lens. They will then insert a clear artificial lens and close the incision site. When your eye heals, you’ll likely be able to see better than you have in years.
More Facts About Cataracts
Cataracts are a common cause of visual impairment around the world, but there are still things you may not know or may be curious about.
- The term “cataract” comes from the Latin word for “waterfall,” likely because rapidly flowing water often turns white and misty.
- Cataracts are responsible for 50 percent of the cases of blindness worldwide. About 20 million people have cataract-related blindness, while another 53 million experience some measure of visual impairment due to cataracts.
- 22 million people in the United States older than 40 have cataracts, and about half of Americans develop cataracts by age 80.
- Once you get the lens replaced with a new artificial lens, you don’t run the risk of cataracts reforming, since the lens no longer has old cells that can accumulate.
- Cataracts aren’t unique to humans: if you have an older dog, for instance, you may notice their eyes start to develop a thick, gray, clouded appearance. Diabetes and a genetic history of cataracts are the main culprits, like with humans. However, cataracts often don’t pose a threat to canine vision, and their other senses are usually sufficient anyway.
Understanding what cataracts are, why they develop, and what you can do about them will help you keep your vision clear and focused. The development of cataracts doesn’t need to ruin your life-your eye doctor can help you restore your vision in no time. Come into Country Hills Eye Center to find out what our ophthalmologists can do for you.