There are several age-related vision problems strongly tied to light, and cataracts are common among many Americans. Although the bedside reading lamps in your home are not a likely cause of this condition, your response to their light can alert you to whether you’re starting to develop cataracts.
What are cataracts?
Your eyes have a lens that is normally transparent. Cataracts, which are proteins in the lens that have formed into clumps, cloud this lens, making it harder to see clearly. As they get bigger, cataracts even inhibit the passage of light into the eye by scattering it. Vision may appear foggy or blurry as a result.
This condition typically develops gradually and most often can be managed for some time with eyeglasses and stronger lighting. Cataracts usually develop when individuals are in their 40s or 50s but don’t show noticeable effects until they enter their 60s. However, they can, over time, begin to impair normal activities such as reading and driving, leading to the need for a more permanent treatment option. If left untreated, severe cases can eventually lead to blindness.
Researchers have not found an exact cause of cataracts, but they have been able to pinpoint risk factors that can speed up the development of the condition:
- Long-term diabetes
- Eye trauma or inflammation
- Previous eye surgery
- Corticosteroids and certain other medications
- Radiation treatments
- Family history of cataracts
- Too much exposure to sunlight
Age is most often cited as the probable cause.
What are the symptoms?
There are various defining symptoms of cataracts:
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Heightened sensitivity to glare
- Double vision in a single eye
- Trouble seeing in dim light or at night
- Lower color intensity
- Seeing halos around lights
- Frequent changes in prescription eyeglass or contact lenses
Most often, these symptoms are not apparent until the cataracts begin to interfere with the passage of light into the eye. It should be noted that these symptoms are similar to those of other eye conditions, so it is important to consult with a doctor for a clear diagnosis. To determine whether individuals have cataracts, patients will complete a visual acuity test using the common eye chart test and have their pupils dilated so that the doctor can more closely examine their eyes.
Types of cataracts
There are various types of cataracts that affect vision in different ways:
- Cortical cataracts affect the outer edge of the lens and eventually progress toward the center.
- Nuclear cataracts start in the center of the lens.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts affect the back of the lens.
- People who are born with cataracts have congenital cataracts.
How to prevent cataracts
In regard to the age-related variation of this condition, there are no known ways to prevent cataracts. Individuals with diabetes can lower their risk by closely monitoring and maintaining their blood sugar levels.
Treatment options for cataracts
Surgery is the only permanent treatment option for this condition. Although stronger reading lamps and new eyeglasses help, they are only a temporary solution. Once cataracts begin to noticeably impair daily activities, surgical intervention becomes necessary. Luckily, it is a low-risk operation and not often performance in response to an emergency. There are two types of surgery for treating this condition:
- Extracapsular cataract extraction involves the removal of the lens. An incision is made, and a process known as phacoemulsification, or phaco, uses sound waves to break up the clouded lens. The lens is then removed using suction via a tube that is inserted through the incision.
- Intracapsular cataract extraction involves the removal of the lens and the lens cap. This type of treatment is less often used.
Once the lens is removed, it is replaced by an artificial one, known as an intraocular lens, during surgery. In some cases, corrective glasses or contact lenses are used instead. Most patients use an intraocular lens.