According to the University of Michigan Kellog Eye Center, anyone’s risk of developing cataracts is pretty high. Over 95% of people who are 65 and older have a cataract. What’s more, half of those between the ages of 75 and 85 have experienced some loss of vision due to this condition.
To better understand cataracts, we’ll look at:
- Other risk factors for cataracts
- What are cataracts?
- Cataract symptoms
- Diagnosing cataracts
- Treatment of cataracts
While your chances of developing cataracts are high, there’s no reason to panic. Some common myths about cataracts include that they result from straining your eyes, or that they can spread from one eye to the other. The truth is that cataracts are a natural part of aging and develop slowly over time. This means that they can be caught early on using dilated eye exams.
Other Risk Factors for Cataracts
While aging is the most common risk factor for cataracts, there are other risk factors that can play a part. These include:
- High blood pressure
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being overweight
- Previous eye injuries or surgeries
- Excessive UV exposure
- Radiation exposure
The risk of cataracts is a great motivator to live a healthier lifestyle. While factors like genetics can play a part in developing the condition, lifestyle habits do as well, and getting regular, comprehensive eye exams can help catch the development of cataracts early on.
What are cataracts?
Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Normally, the lens is clear and rays of light are able to pass through the eye and focus on the retina. Over time, the proteins in the lens of the eye start to deteriorate and cause the lens to become cloudier. If left untreated, cataracts can eventually result in a significant loss of your vision.
Luckily, cataracts don’t form overnight. It can take years of proteins breaking down to finally affect your vision in any noticeable way. However, this doesn’t mean that you have all the time in the world. Cataracts that have been left undiagnosed or untreated will catch up with you eventually.
The initial symptoms of cataracts can be minor and easily overlooked. As they grow, their effects become more noticeable as they begin to affect larger portions of the lens. This can result in symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Trouble seeing in dim light
- Colors taking on a faded or yellowish tint
- Seeing halos around lights
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact prescription
One or even a couple of these symptoms may be manageable. With that said, cataract symptoms will become more severe over time and can significantly impact your quality of life. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist right away.
Your eye doctor is best prepared for diagnosing cataracts. To do this, they will look at your symptoms, medical history, and perform comprehensive eye exams to see if you have the condition. Comprehensive eye exams can include:
- Retinal exam
- Visual acuity test
- Slit-lamp exam
When performing a retinal exam, your doctor will start by using special eye drops to dilate your pupils. This gives them a better view of the retina in the back of your eyes as they look for signs of cataracts.
The visual acuity test is similar to a standard eye exam. Your doctor will show you a chart with a series of letters that you will read with one eye while the other is covered. As the letters get smaller, your doctor is given an idea of whether your vision is significantly impaired or not.
The slit-lamp exam allows your ophthalmologist to view magnified images of structures at the front of your eye. Light is released through a slit in the lamp which illuminates your:
It also lights up the space between your iris and cornea. This gives your doctor the ability to view the structures in smaller sections and makes it easier to spot any abnormalities.
Types of Cataracts
The vast majority of cataract cases are the result of aging, but they can occur on different parts of the lens. They can be classified as subcategories known as:
- Nuclear cataracts
- Cortical cataracts
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts
Nuclear cataracts can initially cause nearsightedness or even improved reading vision. Unfortunately, your vision will eventually become cloudy and possibly turn your lens yellow or brown. Cortical cataracts start as whitish streaks or wedge shapes near the edge of the lens’s cortex. These imperfections eventually progress to the center of the lens resulting in poor vision.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts are those that affect the back of the lens. They begin as a small area that prevents light from making it all the way through the lens. They’re associated with dimmed vision, difficulty reading, and seeing halos around lights. Posterior subcapsular cataracts are also known to develop more quickly than other subcategories.
Treatment for Cataracts
The effects of cataracts can be manageable for a time but they will eventually require surgery. Surgery is the only reliable form of treatment available and becomes necessary when changes of prescription for glasses or contacts no longer help. In the end, it’s up to you and your doctor to decide when it’s time for cataract surgery.
The effects of cataracts can take a while to impact your quality of life. Getting regular comprehensive eye exams will allow your eye doctor to catch your cataracts early and begin to formulate a plan for when surgery will be best. This will usually be when you can no longer drive at night or easily read smaller prints. Diabetics should be aware that they can develop cataracts faster than those without diabetes.
Cataracts are extremely common among people aged 65 and older. While aging is their primary cause, other factors such as genetics, your overall health, and previous medical history can play a factor. Cataracts usually result from the deterioration of proteins in the lens of the eye causing the lens to become cloudier. Symptoms include blurry vision, light sensitivity, and a yellowish tint to your vision. Your ophthalmologist can diagnose cataracts using a variety of exams. Cataracts come in three subcategories and can only be treated with surgery.
Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, and Morristown, TN. Visit our website to meet our doctors and learn more about our specialties, or give us a call at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.