What is a cataract?
Sometimes there is a clouding of the lens in the eye; this clouding is called a cataract. Mostly, this clouding is related to old age. In fact, the majority of Americans aged 80 and above have experienced this clouding or have already undergone a cataract surgery at a particular point in their lives. It is impossible for cataracts to spread from one eye to another; however, cataracts can be in both eyes independently at the same time.
The lens of the eye
This is the part of the eye that directs the concentration of light to focus on the retina. The retina is sensitive to light and is found in the eye.
In normal circumstances, once the light goes through the lens into the retina, it is transformed into naval signals, which are communicated and interpreted by the brain.
In such a case, the lens is transparent and clear; in the case of a cataract, the lens is clouded, and the image received is not sharp. Hence, the vision is blurred.
What causes cataracts?
The lens of the eye works like the lens of a camera. It is found in between the iris and the retina. The lens consists of protein and water that is precisely arranged in a manner such that it helps light focus to the retina. It adjusts the focus of the eye and lets us see clearly when we are either close or far from the image.
The protein that makes up the lens may cloud up the surface of the lens and form what is referred to as a cataract. With age, this clouding spreads.
Studies show different causes of this clouding, including the wear and tear caused with time, smoking, or diabetes.
How cataracts interfere with vision
Cataracts related to aging may affect your vision in the following ways:
- Clouding reduces the sharpness of the light focus on the retina
- This is how cataracts related to aging affects the eye. The proteins that form the lens cloud up due to aging and cause the light sharpness to the retina to reduce. This is at times so severe that the vision is blurred.
- The lens is slowly affected in such a way that, with time, other colors may be impossible to identify. It may also be harder to read.
At what point are we likely to contract cataracts?
When we say with aging, it does not mean that cataracts are only contracted when a person is a senior. Often times, cataracts are present around the age of 40 or 50, but they go unnoticed. You may only notice that they are affecting your vision after the age of sixty.
Persons who are at risk of cataracts
The older you get, the more you are vulnerable to cataracts. The following are other reasons you may contract cataracts:
- Personal behavior e.g. smoking, alcohol use
- Certain diseases e.g. diabetes
- The environment e.g. exposure to glare and ultraviolet light
The symptoms of a cataract
The following are symptoms of cataracts:
- Cloudy vision
- Faded colors
- Impending lights seem too bright
- Night blindness
- Frequent need to change contact lenses or eye medication
Note that the symptoms may not mean you have cataracts but also other eye problems. In case you have these symptoms, please visit your optometrist as soon as possible.
The various types of cataract
There are several types of cataracts that are not related to aging.
- Some cataracts can occur after optical surgery. They can also affect people with diabetes, smokers, and people who use steroids.
- Cataracts can form because of eye accidents or after eye accidents.
- Congenital cataract
- Some people are found with cataracts at birth, and some contract them while they are young. These types of cataracts are so small that they hardly affect vision. In case they do, you may need to have your lenses removed.
- In some cases, exposure to radiation can cause cataracts.
Detection of cataracts
Cataracts are always detected through a thorough eye examination:
Visual acuity test
- This is a chart record where you are examined on different distances.
Dilated eye exam
- This is where your optician uses a magnifying lens and eye drops to examine the conditions of the retina and the optical nerve.
- This is the use of a tonometry instrument to measure the pressure in the eye.
Your optician may examine your eye for any other complications.
The treatment of cataracts
In early stages, cataracts can be corrected by eye glasses. If this does not help, optical surgery is the best way to go. With the optical surgery, the lens of the eye is replaced by an artificial lens.
Note that a cataract should only be removed when it interferes with your day to day vision. Please ensure you consult your optometrist to fully understand the threats, advantages, and alternatives associated with an eye surgery before making this decision.
Sometimes it is important to remove a cataract. It is not necessarily only at those times that they affect vision. This is especially true in cases with other eye infections that cannot be treated due to the existence of the cataracts. If both eyes have a cataract, then the surgeries are scheduled on different dates, approximately four weeks apart.
Is it effective to have a cataract surgery?
Cataract removal surgeries are safe and successful in 90 percent of cases. In most cases, full and effective vision are restored after the surgery.
Risks associated with cataract surgeries
Just like any other surgery, cataract removal has several risks. You need to take the prescribed medication seriously. Your ophthalmologist may ask to stop some medication, and you should follow this advice to avoid infections. You should also ensure you disinfect your hands often; this is because you will feel the urge to touch your eye.
Other risks include retinal detachment, as well as other optical surgery related disorders. Remember, retinal detachment is a serious medical emergency. You will notice specks floating in your vision if retinal detachment has taken place. If you report this soon enough, you have a great chance at preventing permanent loss of vision.
Can I have a cataract surgery when I have other eye problems?
Mostly cataracts occur to people with other eye infections. Consult your ophthalmologist to make a decision, and patiently decide on risks, alternatives, and, in general, treatment.
What to do before the surgery
One or two weeks before surgery, your eye professionals carry out different tests and studies of your eye. This will help them decide on the type of lenses you need and to identify any other infections in the eye.
In some cases, you will be instructed not to consume anything for around 12 hours prior to the surgery.
During a cataract surgery
Your eyes will be served with drops to dilate the pupil and wash the eye. The surgery is less than one hour. Most people prefer to have anesthetic to numb the nerves of the eye. It is possible to be awake or to be asleep during this surgery.
After the cataract surgery
Immediately after the operation, an eye patch is used to cover your eye. With time, you will experience itching and fluid discharge. Avoid touching your eye, because, apart from infections, your eye will be touch sensitive. Your surgeon will give you eye drops for use after surgery.
Avoid bending and doing strenuous work. Follow the ophthalmologist’s checkup timetable. Hopefully, the healing will only take 8 weeks.
How long does it take for you to regain sharp vision?
In the beginning, your vision may not be sharp, as the eye takes time to adapt to the new lenses. This may take from less than a week up to a month’s time.
What to do if a cataract has already claimed my vision
You will need to talk to your doctor on how to salvage the situation.
Protecting your vision
Eat a lot of vegetables and wear sunglasses and a hat to protect you from direct ultraviolet light. If you are a regular smoker, this is the time to avoid this habit. You will also have to ensure you attend regular checkups to see your eye’s progress.
Cataracts are fairly common, especially as people age. While cataracts may significantly impact vision, cataracts can usually be fixed completely with surgery.