June is Cataract Awareness Month. Inside our eyes, we have a natural lens. The lens bends (refracts) light rays that come into the eye to help us see. The lens should be clear. A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a person’s face. Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb the eyesight early on. But with time, cataracts eventually interfere with the vision.
Here are some possible vision changes with a cataract:
- Having blurred vision
- Seeing double (two images instead of one)
- Being extra-sensitive to light
- Having trouble seeing well at night, or needing more light to read
- Seeing bright colors as faded or yellow
Make an appointment for an eye exam if you notice any changes of these changes in your vision. If you develop sudden vision changes, such as flashes of light, sudden eye pain, or sudden headache, see an eye specialist right away.
The Four Types of Cataracts:
- Sub-capsular cataract occurs at the back of the lens. People with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications have a greater risk of developing a sub-capsular cataract.
- Nuclear cataract forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens. Nuclear cataracts usually are associated with aging.
- Cortical cataract has white, wedge-like areas that are not transparent that start at the edge of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion. This type of cataract occurs in the lens cortex, which is the part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.
- Radiation cataract – can develop after exposure to some types of radiation.
The type of cataract one has depends on the type of symptoms experienced, and how soon they occur. For example, when a nuclear cataract first develops, it can bring about a temporary improvement in the near vision, called “second sight.” Unfortunately, the improved vision is short-lived and will disappear as the cataract worsens. On the other hand, a sub-capsular cataract may not produce any symptoms until it’s well-developed.
Who is at Risk for Cataract?
The risk of cataract increases as a person gets older. Other risk factors for cataract include:
- Certain diseases (for example, diabetes).
- Personal behavior (smoking, alcohol use.
- The environment (prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight).
How is a Cataract Treated?
The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these don’t help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a transparent artificial lens.
A cataract needs to be removed only when vision loss interferes with everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or watching television. You and your eye care professional can make this decision together. Once you understand the benefits and risks of surgery, you can make an informed decision about whether cataract surgery is right for you. Risks and complications, which are not frequent, may include infection, retinal detachment, inflammation inside the eye, swelling in certain parts of the eye, retention of a piece of the cataract inside the eye, glaucoma, hemorrhage (bleeding)., possible worsening of certain eye conditions (such as diabetic retinopathy), and failure to improve. In most cases, delaying cataract surgery will not cause long-term damage to the eye or make the surgery more difficult. You do not have to rush into surgery. If you do decide to have surgery, it’s done on an outpatient basis, meaning you’ll go home the same day, and it’s usually very successful.
Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!