Depending on their severity, cataracts can have a drastic effect on your vision and quality of life. If your symptoms are not severe, you may be able to simply use prescription eyeglasses to clear up your vision. As cataracts develop and become a greater obstacle to seeing clearly, the only option to truly gain back your previous visual clarity is to receive cataract surgery.
What are Cataracts?
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. Cataracts affect your vision by making everything look foggy or cloudy. This can make simple, everyday tasks difficult or even impossible to perform due to a lack of visual clarity.
Early on in the development of a cataract, it may only affect a small portion of your eye and be relatively unnoticeable. As the condition worsens and the cataract grows larger, it will cloud more of your vision and distort light going through your lens to a greater extent.
- Clouded, blurred, or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in a single eye
Cataracts usually develop due to age and injury changing the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens. Genetic disorders, medical conditions (like diabetes), past eye surgeries, steroid medications, and other eye conditions can increase your risk of developing cataracts.
As you age or are affected by other medical conditions, cataracts develop due to the lenses in your eyes becoming less flexible, less transparent, and thicker. The lens will eventually start to deteriorate and clump together, causing cloudy vision.
Types of Cataracts
- Nuclear cataracts – This type of cataract affects the center of the lens. At first, they will cause more nearsightedness or even a temporary improvement in your reading vision. Over time, the lens will gradually turn more yellow and cloud your vision.
- Cortical cataracts – This cataract affects the edge of the lens. It begins as whitish, wedge-shaped opacities or streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. As it progresses, the streaks will extend to the center and interfere with light passing through the lens.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts – The effect of this cataract is on the back of the lens. This cataract starts as a small, opaque area that usually forms near the back of the lens, right in the path of light.
- Congenital cataracts – These are cataracts that you are born with. These cataracts may be genetic, or associated with an intrauterine infection or trauma.
- Have regular eye examinations.
- Quit smoking.
- Manage other health problems.
- Choose a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Wear sunglasses.
- Reduce alcohol use. Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of cataracts.
Eyeglasses as a Treatment Option
Eyeglasses can help achieve visual clarity for those who do not have a severe case of cataracts. Eyeglasses will not permanently fix cataracts, and your condition can continue to worsen. You can change your prescription over time to try and continuously combat the effects of cataracts, but eventually, the condition of your eyes may necessitate having to receive cataract surgery.
Why it’s Done
Cataract surgery is performed to treat cataracts and can be necessary if a cataract is interfering with the treatment of other eye conditions. If you have a cataract that is causing your quality of life to worsen, and you have trouble performing daily activities, surgery is your best option for treatment.
Complications after cataract surgery are uncommon, and most complications can be effectively treated post-operation. Some of the risks of cataract surgery include:
- Drooping eyelid
- Dislocation of artificial lens
- Retinal detachment
- Secondary cataract
- Loss of vision
What to Expect from the Procedure
During the procedure, your clouded lens will be removed and usually will be replaced with an artificial intraocular (IOL) lens (in some cases an artificial lens is not necessary).
Next, one of two methods will be used:
- Using an ultrasound probe to break up the lens for removal. During a procedure called phacoemulsification, your surgeon will make an incision in the cornea and insert a probe into the lens substance where the cataract has formed. Your surgeon then uses the probe, which transmits ultrasound waves, to break up the cataract and suction out the fragments. The very back of your lens will be left intact to serve as a place for the artificial lens to rest, and stitches may be used to close the tiny incision in your cornea at the completion of the procedure.
- Making an incision in the eye and removing the lens in one piece. This procedure (called extracapsular cataract extraction) is less common and requires a larger incision than one used for phacoemulsification. Through this larger incision, your surgeon will remove the front capsule of the lens and the cloudy lens comprising the cataract. As with phacoemulsification, the very back capsule of your lens is left in place to serve as a place for the artificial lens to rest.