Do I Have Cataracts?
It’s not uncommon for our vision to change as we get older. Even if you had perfect vision when you entered adulthood, it’s rare to go your entire life without a few vision adjustments. It may start with needing readers to see a menu or a text message and progress from there. But how do you know when you need a new prescription and when you’re developing a cataract?
Early Signs of Cataracts
The most common symptom associated with cataracts is cloudy or foggy vision. This is different than blurred vision in which the sharpness of an image appears smeared but remains intact. Foggy vision is more all-inclusive of what you see. Think of it as muted vision, dim vision, or akin to what it’s like to try to read through tears.
Cataracts often begin forming even before you notice cloudy vision. Many of the early signs of cataracts relate to how light impacts your sight. If you notice yourself becoming more sensitive to light or glare, you may be developing a cataract. Similarly, if you don’t like driving at night because you have difficulty seeing or because the lights hurt your eyes or you see “halos,” these could be signs of a developing cataract.
Other early warning signs include the way you perceive colors. Some patients mention difficulty distinguishing shades of color or noticing the vibrancy of colors fading or having a yellowish tint.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t try to guess the cause. Get a professional opinion from an optometrist at Hauser-Ross Eye Institute.
Cataract Progression (How Cataracts Form)
As we age, the lenses of our eyes can become thicker and less flexible. This causes eye tissue to break down and cloud the lenses. The “cloud” is what we call a cataract. When light enters the eye, the lens produces images onto the retina at the back of the eye. This is why some of the early symptoms of cataract development center around light’s impact on your vision. As more of the eye tissue breaks down, the cataract scatters the light as it enters the lens and images become less sharp, thus blurring your vision.
Cataracts generally occur in both eyes at a similar, but not identical, rate. Because cataracts often develop at a slightly different pace, one eye may require cataract surgery before the procedure is necessary on the other eye. In some cases, cataracts may affect only one eye. Usually, doctors prefer to perform cataract surgery on one eye at a time, with recovery time in between.
What Do Cataracts Look Like?
People who have cataracts are rarely able to see them in the mirror due to the foggy vision associated with cataracts. Others, though, may note a “film” or dinginess behind your iris (the part of your eye with color). That “film” is the collection of broken-down eye tissue.
Are Cataracts Hereditary?
Genetics definitely play a role in whether or not you will develop cataracts, but there are other risk factors to consider as well. Any of the following could make you more likely to develop a cataract:
- Frequent sunlight exposure
- Ionizing radiation exposure, such as x-rays or radiation therapy for cancer
- Prolonged use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids
- History of eye inflammation, injury, or surgery
Types of Cataracts
You might be surprised to learn that not all cataracts are the same. Cataracts are categorized, primarily, by where on the eye lens they are located.
- Nuclear cataracts affect the middle of the eye lens and are sometimes characterized by increased nearsightedness at the onset, then a yellowing to browning of the lens that can make distinguishing color shades difficult.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts typically form at the back of the lens, interfering with the light’s path and usually causing reading difficulty, poor vision in bright light, and a halo or glare effect around lights at night.
- Cortical cataracts are cataracts in which streaks or wedges begin on the outer lens of the eye and progress to the center of the lens, interfering with light entry and typically causing glare problems.
- Congenital cataracts are present at birth and often due to prenatal infection in the mother or a congenital medical condition such as rubella, myotonic dystrophy, Lowe’s syndrome, or galactosemia.
How Do Eye Doctors Check for Cataracts?
The cataract diagnosis begins with a routine ophthalmic exam. Your ophthalmologist can determine if you have cataracts while performing a series of tests, which may include:
- Visual acuity test: Reading the eye chart
- Retinal exam: Involves examining the eyes with special drops to determine the health of your retinas
- Slit-lamp exam: Magnifies the front portion of the eye to allow detection of abnormalities
Having an up-to-date vision prescription and using bright lighting whenever possible will ease cataract symptoms early in the process, however, when vision problems become more noticeable and begin to interfere with daily activities, cataract surgery will be necessary to restore sharp vision.
Treatment for Cataracts
If your doctor determines that cataracts are present, treatment will depend upon the severity of your vision symptoms. For mild cataracts, your doctor may take a watchful approach and recommend another exam at a later date to evaluate cataract progression. Very mild cataracts typically do not require surgery; only when the cloudy lenses adversely affect the patient’s quality of life is surgery performed.
Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed operations in the world. It is an outpatient procedure that’s considered extremely safe. During cataract surgery, your doctor will numb the eye with local anesthesia, remove the cloudy lens, and replace it with a clear artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL).
If you are experiencing symptoms of cataracts or vision problems of any kind, contact our office for a complete eye evaluation. Our goal at Hauser-Ross Eye Institute is to achieve the best possible vision results for every patient through the use of advanced technology and by understanding the unique needs of each individual.