Q: What are cataracts and how do they affect my vision?
A: A cataract is a gradual clouding of the crystalline lens located inside the eye, which causes decreased vision. Cataracts most commonly occur with aging, and are a normal part of the aging process. Other causes of cataract development include ocular trauma/surgery, radiation, smoking, systemic disease (metabolic and genetic conditions), and certain medications (particularly corticosteroids). Symptoms of cataract vision loss depend on the type, location, and severity of the cataract. Cataracts may cause gradually worsening blurry vision, halos around lights, poor night vision, prescription changes, and glare symptoms. A cataract is treated with outpatient surgery, in which the crystalline lens is removed and replaced with a clear lens implant. Surgery is typically done with local anesthesia, with minimal or no complications. Nearly all patients achieve improved vision and often do not require glasses post surgery. Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most common surgeries performed in the United States. Your optometrist will evaluate your eyes for cataracts at each comprehensive eye exam. Please let your optometrist know if you experience any of the above symptoms.
Q: What is a cataract? How will I know when I have one? What can be done to fix it?
A: A cataract is a clouding of the crystalline lens. The crystalline lens sits behind the iris, or the colored part of the eye. Its function is to fine tune our focusing system by changing shape as we view objects at different distances. Our lens eventually loses its ability to change shape; this is when we require reading glasses or bifocals. In addition, the crystalline lens can become cloudy or yellow as a part of normal aging. This is also known as an age-related cataract. Normal, age-related cataracts are unavoidable and everyone will develop them at some point if they live long enough. The discoloration of the lens leads to an overall blur, a decrease in contrast sensitivity, and a worsening of glare, especially at nighttime. Because they tend to develop gradually, the symptoms are often unnoticed by the patient. A yearly eye exam will allow your optometrist the opportunity to identify the cataracts and advise on how to proceed. When you and your optometrist determine that your cataracts are affecting your vision and are advanced enough to require removal, you will meet with an ophthalmologist. Cataract surgery is a safe and effective out-patient procedure that will reverse any vision loss caused by the cataracts; and it is usually covered by your medical insurance.
Q: Do I have to wait until my cataracts are "ripe" before I can have them removed?
A: No! Waiting for cataracts to get "ripe" refers to an outdated surgical technique. Today, we recommend cataract removal when your quality of vision interferes with your quality of life. It is possible to have 20/20 vision, yet be so disabled by glare from headlights or sunlight, that cataract surgery may be the right treatment. We will monitor your cataract progression and help you decide the proper timing of cataract surgery.