Cataracts are one of the most common eye conditions in the world and are estimated to affect approximately 24.4 million Americans over the age of 40. By the time that they reach 75, nearly half of the population will have, or have had, a cataract. Unfortunately, cataracts have the ability to significantly impair vision, and countless patients will undergo treatment to restore their eyesight and quality of life.
But what exactly are cataracts and why do they form? Let’s find out.
The natural lens of the eye is small, transparent disc that helps to refract light to be focused on the retina. It is made almost entirely of proteins, which are usually evenly-dispersed, enabling light to pass through the lens without interruption. Quite simply, a cataract is the clouding of the natural lens of the eye. It is a progressive condition, which means that the clouding gets progressively worse, impairing light from passing through the lens properly, which affects the quality of vision of anyone with the condition.
There are various different types of cataracts, but most are age-related and occur because of changes to the proteins in your eyes as you get older. These changes cause the proteins to clump together into patches that increasingly thicker and larger, blocking out more and more light until it is impossible to see clearly.
While age-related cataracts can affect anyone, they are more likely to develop if you also:
The other types of cataracts include:
Traumatic cataracts. These occur when you’ve been involved in an accident or suffered an injury that has damaged the lens of the eye. Traumatic cataracts can develop immediately after the accident, or much later on.
Radiation cataracts. If you have needed to have radiation, for example, as part of cancer treatment, you may go on to develop cataracts. They can also form after prolonged exposure to natural radiation from the sun. For this reason, it’s important to always use adequate eye protection when outdoors, even on cloudy days.
Pediatric cataracts. Although rare, some children can get cataracts too. They usually form as a result of serious complications during pregnancy or as a result of illness during childhood – as well as all of the same reasons why adults develop them.
Secondary cataracts. A small number of people who have previously had cataract surgery will develop a secondary cataract after their procedure. Known as posterior capsule opacification, it happens when scar tissue forms during the surgery that makes your vision cloudy again. Fortunately, it is easily treated using a procedure called YAG laser capsulotomy.
Early cataracts are often detected at routine eye exams since the symptoms that they cause usually develop very slowly, over a period of months and years. These symptoms include:
Cataracts can develop in one eye or both. And the rate at which they form can vary between eyes too. If you notice any of these signs, we recommend that you speak to your eye doctor as soon as possible.
The good news is that cataracts can be treated fairly easily with surgery. Cataract surgery is straightforward and performed countless times across the United States every year. However, you might not need it immediately and many people can manage with their cataracts for years just by using a different prescription and/or brighter lighting.
If you decide that you want to have cataract surgery, your surgeon will be able to check your suitability and explain what to expect from the procedure. This involves removing the natural lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial alternative.
If you would like more information about cataracts, or to talk to someone about your vision worries, call North Texas Ophthalmology Associates at (940) 723-1274 to reach our office in Wichita Falls, Texas.