Cataract Symptoms

Cataracts are a very common condition that affects nearly everyone as they age. They can occur in one or both eyes. While there are some rare occasions that can see someone suffering from a cataract earlier in their life (such as genetics, illness, or eye trauma), most people don’t have an issue until later in life. Because this is such a common—and sight-threatening—condition, it’s important to be regularly screened for cataracts from age 40 onwards.

What are Cataracts?

Cataracts are caused when the proteins within the eye gradually clump together and settle on the lens. When light enters the eye, it needs to travel unobstructed through the lens to the back of the eye. These clumping proteins obstruct the smooth passage of light. As this obstruction increases, it causes the vision to deteriorate over time.

It’s important to know that this is a very slow process that typically happens over many years. Left unchecked, cataracts will eventually cause significant impairment to vision, including total loss of sight. According to the World Health Organization, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, both in the USA and across the globe. 

Thankfully, there are advanced cataract treatments that can remove the diseased lens and replace it with an artificial one, therefore restoring vision. Millions of these procedures are carried out each year with an extremely high success rate.

The First 24 hours
You may want to sleep on your return home. It’s important not to undertake any exercise or strenuous activity. The feeling should start to return to the eye within a few hours of surgery. However, your vision may not yet fully return.
Days 2 - 7
You will most likely have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon during this period to check that there are no complications, and the healing process is progressing as expected. You’ll have been given eye drops when you left the clinic. These help reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and stimulate the healing process. As long as you feel able to, it’s OK to resume driving.
Weeks 2 - 6
Your eye will gradually adapt to the new lens and any side effects should slowly improve and eventually disappear completely. If you need new glasses, then once the healing process is complete—at around the 6-week mark—you’ll be able to have an eye test and order your new prescription.
Week 6 onwards
 The healing process should be complete, and you can resume all your usual activities.

Cataract Symptoms: Early Stages

Because cataracts form so slowly, it’s very likely that you’ll experience little to no symptoms during the early stages. In fact, it’s most common that they’ll be first diagnosed during a routine eye exam. This is why it’s so important to ensure that you attend these appointments at least every two years, and more often if your eye doctor recommends it. There are some factors that may make you more predisposed to developing cataracts. These include:
  • Advancing age: Cataract checks should be regularly carried out on all people over 50
  • Diabetes: Both Type I and Type II diabetics are more at risk of developing cataracts
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is another risk factor for cataracts
  • Previous eye surgery or trauma: This can increase the likelihood of cataracts forming
  • Obesity: This often goes hand-hand-hand with hypertension
  • Smoking: There is a link between tobacco use and cataract development
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight and/or radiation: Studies show that this might increase the formation of cataracts
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Another proven factor linked to cataract formation
  • Poor nutrition: The National Eye Institute lists this as a factor
  • Certain medications: Such as corticosteroids

Cataract Symptoms: Progression

Cataracts can form in one or both eyes. They don’t usually progress at the same rate. It’s important to understand that, while age-related cataracts progress very slowly, those that form due to other circumstances, can progress more rapidly. Examples of the latter are those that occur due to illness, injury, genetics, or environmental factors. If this is the case, then you’ll likely be under the care of a specialist ophthalmologist who’s experienced in treating those in your conditions.

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Cataracts late stages

Cataract Symptoms are Easily Treated with Surgery

The later stages of cataracts will cause significant issues with vision. In addition, it becomes visibly noticeable, appearing as a milky white spot on the lens, meaning it can also be seen by other people looking at you. If the whole lens becomes clouded over then it will cause major problems with reading, watching TV, and driving.

The key to successful cataract treatment is early diagnosis and then treatment at the correct time. The best time to undergo cataract surgery is before the disease becomes too advanced. Once a cataract is affecting your daily life, this is usually the correct time for the procedure to be carried out. During the early stages, the condition is often managed with prescription lenses and polarized sunglasses. This allows breathing time for you to come to terms with undergoing a surgical procedure and discussing your choices with your cataract surgeon. It’s important to understand that if you allow a cataract to progress unchecked then, once it reaches the late—or advanced—stage, it becomes more difficult to treat. Therefore, the condition is most commonly dealt with before this happens. Happily, cataract surgery is highly successful, quick, and carried out on thousands of people per day. The procedure involves numbing the eye and making a tiny incision, breaking down the lens of the eye, suctioning it out, and replacing it with an artificial lens.

This is known as an Intraocular lens, or IOL. The procedure is painless and generally carried out on an outpatient basis. This means you return home the same day. In fact, the whole process usually takes less than an hour. Full recovery is usually fast, taking just a few weeks. Improvement in vision can be quite dramatic.  Depending on the type of IOL you choose and the quality of your vision, you may even be able to live a life free from eyeglasses after a cataract operation.

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