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If you have been diagnosed as having a cataract, there is no need to worry. Cataracts are nothing unusual. They frequently occur as part of the eye’s ageing process. However, with cataracts it is possible to turn back the clock. The latest advances in micro-surgery have proved remarkably successful, giving improved visual results and dramatically shortening recovery time. When deteriorating vision begins to interfere with your work or lifestyle it is time to give the situation serious consideration.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or yellowed.
There are many misconceptions about cataract. Cataract is not:
a film over the eye;
caused by overusing the eyes;
spread from one eye to the other;
a cause of irreversible blindness.
Common symptoms of cataract include:
a painless blurring of vision;
glare, or light sensitivity;
poor night vision;
double vision in one eye;
needing brighter light to read;
fading or yellowing of colors.
The amount and pattern of cloudiness within the lens can vary. If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that a cataract is present.
The lens of the human eye works rather like the lens of a camera. Toward the front of the eye, the lens focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye. Light passes through it to produce a sharp image on the retina. When the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, light is unable to pass through and your vision is blurred. This conditions is known as a cataract. There are many misconceptions about cataracts. For instance, a cataract is not a film visible on the outside of the eye. It is not caused from the over use of the eyes, and using the eye does not make it worse.
Cataracts usually develop over a period of a few months. They are caused by the deterioration of the normal protein structure within the lens of the eye as a person ages. This makes the lens cloudy. Most people with cataracts are healthy and have no other eye disease. However cataract formation can also follow eye injuries, glaucoma, general medical conditions such as diabetes, the taking of certain drugs, or radiation damage. Cataracts can occur as early as age 40. Cataracts occur mainly in people over the age of 55 years. They are the leading cause of vision loss among older adults and may affect up to 60% of adults over the age of 65 years. Occasionally they may occur as a congenital defect in infants or children.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens, focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away.
The lens is mostly made of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract, and over time, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
Cataracts are classified as one of three types: nuclear, cortical, or subcapsular. A nuclear cataract is most commonly seen as it forms. This cataract forms in the nucleus, the center of the lens, and is due to natural aging changes.
A cortical cataract, which forms in the lens cortex, gradually extends its spokes from the outside of the lens to the center. Many diabetics develop cortical cataracts.
A subcapsular cataract begins at the back of the lens. People with diabetes, high farsightedness (hyperopia), retinitis pigmentosa, or those taking high doses of steroids may develop a subcapsular cataract.
A cataract starts out small, and at first has little effect on your vision. You may notice that your vision is blurred a little, like looking through a cloudy piece of glass. A cataract may make light from the sun or a lamp seem too bright, causing glare. Or you may notice when you drive at night that the oncoming headlights cause more glare than before. Colors may not appear as bright as they once did.
The type of cataract you have will affect exactly which symptoms you experience and how soon they will occur. When a nuclear cataract first develops it can bring about a temporary improvement in your near vision, called “second sight.” Unfortunately, the improved vision is short-lived and will disappear as the cataract worsens. Meanwhile, a subcapsular cataract may not produce any symptoms until it’s well-developed.
No one knows for sure why the eye’s lens changes as we age, forming cataracts. Researchers are gradually identifying factors that may cause cataracts — and information that may help to prevent them.
Many studies suggest that exposure to ultraviolet light is associated with cataracts, so eyecare practitioners recommend wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen your exposure.
Other studies suggest people with diabetes are at risk for developing a cataract. The same goes for users of steroids, diuretics and major tranquilizers, but more studies are needed to distinguish the effect of the disease from the consequences of the drugs themselves.
Some eyecare practitioners believe that a diet high in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium and vitamins C and E, may forestall cataracts. Meanwhile, eating a lot of salt may increase your risk.
Other risk factors include cigarette smoke, air pollution and heavy alcohol consumption. A recent small study found lead exposure to be a risk factor as well, but larger studies are needed to confirm whether lead can definitely put you at risk.
When symptoms begin to appear, you may be able to improve your vision for a while using new glasses, strong bifocals, magnification, appropriate lighting or other visual aids.
Think about surgery when your cataracts have progressed enough to seriously impair your vision and affect your daily life. Many people consider poor vision an inevitable fact of aging, but cataract surgery is a simple, relatively painless procedure to regain vision.
Cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision. In fact, it is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with over 1.5 million cataract surgeries done each year. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision, somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40.
During surgery, the surgeon will remove your clouded lens, and in most cases replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Read more about what to expect if you have cataract surgery.