Critical Facts: Cataracts

June is National Cataract Awareness Month.  To raise awareness about this disease, Dr. Robert Sholomon of Resident Eye Care Associates, shared the following critical facts you should know:

What are cataracts?

  • Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss among adults 55 and older and are usually a result of aging.
  • Cataracts can be best described as clouding of the eye’s natural lens, the part of the eye responsible for focusing light and producing clear, sharp images.  Like all other living tissues in the body, old cells within the lens die and are continually replaced with new cells.  Over time, the cells begin to block and diffuse light as it passes through the lens. In the same way as the lens of a camera focuses light on the film inside, the eye’s natural lens normally works to focus light on the retina along the inside back wall of the eye.  Just as the dirty camera lens spoils an otherwise perfect picture, vision is impaired when the natural lens in the eye becomes clouded by cataracts. Light cannot pass clearly to the retina, making the resulting image appear blurred or cloudy.

How do I recognize the signs and symptoms?

  • The development of cataracts can vary from person to person, but generally they develop slowly over a period of time.  A cataract can take months or years to reach the point where it adversely affects vision.  However, one may develop a cataract rapidly as a result of a direct injury to the eye, in which a profound reduction of vision will then occur within weeks or months.
  • The effects and first signs of their development can also vary.  Some patients notice a cataract as a reduction in central vision, while others may experience a problem in peripheral (side) vision.  Still, others may notice a glare or halo when looking toward direct light.
  • The most common symptoms of cataracts are blurred or fuzzy vision and sensitivity to light.  These symptoms manifest as difficulty with driving (particularly at night), or otherwise restricting your ability to perform daily tasks of living.  For example, cataracts can make reading difficult, especially small print.
  • Some people may notice that colors seem dull and appear less bright.  Other patients experience difficulty when seeing objects up close (as threading a needle or baiting a fishing hook).  For others, trips, slips, falls, or other accidents may be the first indication that they have experienced loss of vision.

 How are cataracts diagnosed?

  • Cataracts can be diagnosed only by a thorough eye examination.  Trained and skilled in the eyes’ total health, the consulting optometrist can determine whether a cataract or another eye disorder may be affecting your vision.

 What are my treatment options?

  • There is presently no medical treatment that will prevent cataracts or reverse them once they develop.  The only treatment for cataracts is their surgical removal.
  • The decision to operate is decided by you and your doctor together.  This decision is based on the degree to which a cataract is impairing your vision and the effect this impairment has on your lifestyle.
  • If you opt for treatment there are several surgical procedures that may be used.  Virtually all of these procedures are performed by removing the eye’s clouded natural lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) implant.