Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 60. In fact, by the time we reach 80, more than half of us will have developed a cataract.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens which renders vision blurry and unfocused. Having this condition can be compared to looking through a dirty or foggy window.
While the majority of cataracts are a result of the aging process, there are also congenital cataracts that are present at birth, secondary cataracts that result from eye surgery, or diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes, and traumatic cataracts that result at any age from an eye injury.
Though you may be able to live with mild to moderate cataracts, severe cataracts need to be treated with surgery. The procedure involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL).
Cataract surgery is a common procedure that has a very high success rate in restoring vision to patients. Surgery is typically performed on one eye at a time.
Cataracts Signs & Symptoms
Cataracts don’t suddenly develop overnight. They tend to start off small and only noticeably affect your vision as they develop. The first symptom is blurred, hazy, or cloudy vision. You may become sensitive to light, colors may seem dim or faded, and you may notice halos around lights or double vision.
That said, the symptoms people experience may vary. Some individuals report a temporary improvement in near vision when a cataract first develops, a phenomenon known as “second sight”.
Here is a list of cataracts signs and symptoms:
- Blurry or cloudy vision (that cannot be corrected with contacts or glasses)
- Glare from lamps, sunlight, oncoming traffic when driving at night, or indoor lighting
- Colors appearing dim and less vibrant
- Halos around lights
- Double vision
- Poor night vision
- Sudden improvement in near vision
If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your eye doctor immediately.
What Causes Cataracts?
Cataracts are part of the natural aging process of the eye. However, cataracts can also present at birth or appear following eye injury, surgery, or disease. Environmental, health, and behavioral risk factors can also play a role in cataract development, many of which can be avoided or prevented.
Here are the most common cataract risk factors:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or other sources
- Certain medications such as steroids or statin medications
- History of eye injury or eye surgery
- Family history
Cataract Surgery & Treatment
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed in North America and has a 90% success rate (meaning the patient has improved vision, between 20/20 and 20/40 vision, following the procedure).
The surgery involves removing the clouded natural lens and usually replacing it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL) that becomes a permanent part of the eye. It is a relatively quick and painless procedure and you will not feel or see the IOL after the implant.
That said, being diagnosed with a cataract does not mean that you need to have surgery immediately, or ever. You may be able to live with symptoms of early cataracts for a while by using vision aids such as glasses, anti-glare sunglasses, magnification lenses, strong bifocals, or brighter lighting to suit your needs.
Surgery should be considered only once the condition has begun to seriously impair your vision to the extent that it affects your daily life, such as reading or driving, playing golf, playing cards, or watching TV.
Can Cataracts Be Prevented?
While the development of cataracts is largely associated with age, there are other factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition. Here are steps you can take to delay or prevent the development of cataracts:
- Protect Your Eyes From the Sun: Ultraviolet radiation can be a factor in the development of cataracts. To protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet rays, wear 100% UV protective sunglasses and a hat with a brim when under the sun.
- Stop Smoking and Limit Alcohol Intake: Smoking regularly and consuming large amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase the chances of developing cataracts.
- Eat Well: Research shows that getting the right nutrition can reduce the risk of age-related cataracts, particularly foods rich with vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, and Omega-3s.
- Get Regular Eye Exams: If you’re over 50, have diabetes, or other eye conditions, it is important to get a comprehensive eye exam every year to check for signs of cataracts and other age-related eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma. Early detection offers the best chance for successful treatment.
Intraocular Lenses (IOL)
During cataract surgery, the Intraocular lens (IOL) replaces the clouded natural lens. These lenses are typically made of plastic and most of them are monofocal lenses to correct for distance vision. Thanks to technological innovation, specialized IOLs continue to be developed to improve the ease and success of cataract surgery and to improve the patient’s vision. From multifocal lenses to IOLs that block UV and blue light radiation, patients today have greater options available to them.
The 3 common types of presbyopia-correcting IOLs are multifocal IOLs, accommodating IOLs, and extended depth of focus IOLs.
Multifocal IOLs allow patients to see all distances clearly. The varying optical powers on the lens allow one to see from a variety of distances to be in sharp focus.
It can take some time for people to adapt to multifocal IOL lenses because the focusing power the lenses provide is different from what people are accustomed to. Since the IOL relies on a different design than the bifocal or multifocal optical lenses used in eyeglasses, the brain might need time to adjust.
To ease the adjustment, most cataract surgeons recommend having multifocal IOLs implanted in both eyes, rather than just one.
Accommodative IOLs change focus from distance to near depending on the eye muscle movements.
Extended depth of focus IOLs provide a wider continuous range of high-quality vision, extending the focus from distance into intermediate and even into near range. One of the major advantages is that these lenses provide excellent intermediate vision, ideal for frequent digital device use.
Other Types of IOLs
IOLs that block out ultraviolet (UV) and blue light radiation are also available.
Other premium IOLs exist such as aspheric IOLs which, similar to your real lens, are aspheric in shape and can improve vision quality, especially in low light conditions or toric IOLS which are suitable for correcting astigmatism, nearsightedness, or farsightedness. Premium lenses such as these are more costly than standard monofocal IOLs and may not be right for everyone.
Selecting the right IOL for your eyes, lifestyle and vision is a decision that should be made together with a trusted eye doctor.
If you or a loved one has cataracts and you’d like to learn more or book your appointment, contact OC Eyecare Optometry today.