A clouding of the eye's lens causing blurred or distorted vision
Cataracts are the leading cause of poor vision in adults. However, the development of cataracts does not have to mean a loss of sight. Treatment of cataracts is over 95% successful in restoring good vision.
The lens that is responsible for focusing an image after it enters the eye is normally crystal clear. When light enters the eye, it passes through the lens and is focused on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina then transmits the focused image to the brain.
What Is a Cataract?
A cataract is the clouding of the eye's lens. The cloudy lens blocks the passage of light through the eye. As a result, the image that reaches the retina and is sent to the brain is cloudy and vision is poor.
What Causes Cataracts?
A cataract is caused by a change in the chemical composition of the lens. The most common cause for this change is the natural aging process. As we mature, the normally flexible, clear material of the lens becomes hard and cloudy. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent the development of cataracts. Everyone who lives long enough will eventually develop the problem.
Although most commonly seen in adults after the age of 40, cataracts can occur at any age. The condition may be present at birth or caused by an injury to the eye. Infections and other eye diseases, such as glaucoma and eye tumors, may cause the development of a cataract. Vision loss is usually gradual as a cataract develops.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
How are cataracts diagnosed?
A cataract usually cannot be viewed from outside the eye and must be diagnosed during an eye examination. A variety of instruments, including an ophthalmoscope and a slit lamp are used to determine the type, size and location of the cataract. These instruments illuminate and magnify the structures of the eye.
If a cataract is diagnosed, several other tests are performed. Contrast sensitivity or glare testing may be used to determine the degree of interference the cataract is causing. The A-scan is an ultrasound test that is performed to determine the length of the eye and the power of the lens implant. Potential acuity measurement (PAM) could be used to determine how much vision might be improved. Other tests, like an endothelial cell count, may also be used, depending on individual circumstances.
How are cataracts treated?
Unfortunately, a cataract cannot be cleared by medication, eye drops or a change in diet. The only way to restore clear vision is to have the cloudy cataract lens surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. This artificial lens can be in the form of cataract glasses, contact lenses, or an intraocular lens implant (IOL). The most effective replacement lens used today is the IOL. It gives the patient a permanent focusing device for the eye and requires no care after surgical healing is completed.
When should cataract surgery be performed?
Development of the cataract itself is not an indication that immediate surgery is required. A cataract should be removed when loss of vision begins to interfere with daily activities.
Before surgery, patients are given medication to help them relax and anesthetic eye drops to numb the eye and keep them comfortable during surgery. Most patients return home a few hours after the procedure with little or no need for pain medication.
What results can be expected after cataract surgery?
Patients can expect a rapid return to good vision following cataract surgery. Today's modern surgical techniques and technology have made cataract surgery one of the most successful surgical procedures performed in the United States, with over 95% of patients reporting a return to good vision following cataract surgery. However, some patients will need to wear glasses for reading and other activities following the procedure.
Since general anesthesia is normally not required, most patients experience a rapid recovery, returning home within hours. The eye will take several weeks to heal completely. However, most patients are able to return to their normal activities the day after surgery. Returning to an active lifestyle is one of the primary benefits of cataract surgery.
Loss of sight can be prevented
Although there is no way to prevent the development of cataracts, loss of sight from the disease is largely preventable. With modern technology, cataracts can be removed and good vision restored. Cataract surgery can be performed before a loss of vision begins interfering with daily activities.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of cataracts or other vision problems, you should obtain a complete eye examination.