A cataract is a clouding of your eye’s natural, clear lens, and it’s one of the most common eye problems for older Americans. In fact, cataracts affect up to half of all men and women by age 75.
Although cataracts become more common the older we get, cataract-related vision problems can begin a lot earlier. In fact, the risk of cataracts rises significantly with each decade after age 40.
The problem with cataracts is that the issues they cause are often dismissed as a “natural part of getting older.” But vision loss is never natural, and seeking vision care at the first sign of cataracts can help you keep the clear vision you depend on.
At Advanced Lasik, Randa Garrana, MD, offers comprehensive cataract care for women and men at her offices in Pasadena and Long Beach, California, and New York City. Here’s what she wants you to know about cataracts and the symptoms they can cause.
Located behind your pupil, your eye’s lens plays a role in refracting or focusing light as it passes through your eye to the light-sensitive retina. Normally, this lens is clear, allowing light to pass without any problems.
As we age, proteins in the lens start to degrade. Eventually, the lens becomes cloudy — just a little cloudy at first — but then it becomes progressively opaque, causing a significant loss of vision.
While older age is a common risk factor for cataracts, other factors also increase the risk of developing clouded lenses, including:
- Chronic exposure to the sun’s UV rays
- Certain medicines, including corticosteroids
- Previous eye injury or eye surgery
- Family history of cataracts
If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to let Dr. Garrana know, so she can evaluate you for cataracts during your next eye exam.
Signs and symptoms of cataracts
The clouding process tends to start slowly, and many patients don’t realize initially that they have cataracts. As the lens becomes cloudier, the symptoms become a lot more noticeable, often interfering with everyday activities, like reading or driving.
The most common signs to watch for include:
- Blurry vision
- Dim vision or faded-looking colors
- Extra sensitivity to bright lights
- Night vision problems, especially when driving
- Seeing rings or halos around lights
- Needing to change your lens prescription frequently
- Needing brighter light for reading and other activities
- Double vision or seeing “ghost images”
Because the symptoms can be subtle at first, it’s important to see Dr. Garrana at the first sign of any vision change.
Cataracts won't go away on their own, and there’s no medicine or therapy to “fix” cataracts or clear the clouded lenses. Initially, stronger glasses and brighter lights may help. But ultimately, the only way to treat your vision problems is to have the clouded lens removed surgically.
Eye surgery sounds scary, but actually, cataract surgery is very safe and extremely common — about 3 million procedures are performed each year in the United States. The entire procedure takes about half an hour, and it’s performed on an outpatient basis using a local anesthetic and a sedative to help you relax.
During the procedure, Dr. Garrana uses lasers and special instruments to gently break apart the cataract and remove it. Then, she inserts an artificial lens that’s designed to act just like a natural eye lens.
After cataract surgery, you wear an eye shield for the first day or two and use special eye drops. Avoid strenuous activity for the initial healing period, and attend your follow-up visits to measure your progress. Recovery typically takes a week or less.
Don’t ignore vision changes
In their early stages, cataracts can cause very subtle symptoms. Knowing what symptoms to look for and being attuned to those tiny changes in vision can help you get treatment as early as possible.
To learn more about cataract care at Advanced Lasik, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Garrana today.