What is a cataract?

Many patients think that a cataract is actually a film that spreads over the surface of the eye. Some patients are even concerned that cataracts will make them go blind. In reality a cataract is a natural occurring change in the eye that is a gradual clouding that makes vision less sharp over time. Patients typically report the sensation of looking through wax paper, they often have trouble driving at night and colors seems very dull. As you already know the eye works much like a camera and like a camera the lens must be very clear to see well. A healthy transparent lens absorbs light and accurately focuses it onto the retina, providing a crisp clear image. As the aging process takes hold of our eyes proteins begin to clump together forming opaque clusters. Over time these protein deposits eventually cloud the entire lens allowing significantly less less to pass through. The small amount of light that does make it through is diffused or scattered leaving vision defocused. These protein clusters can also change the color of the normal clear lens making it a yellowish brown color. The only method of treating cataracts is with cataract surgery where your natural lens is replaced with an intraocular lens implant.

What are the risk factors for Cataracts?

By the age of 65, most Americans will have developed cataracts, which occur when your human lens becomes clouded to such an extent that it affects your vision and quality of life. Remember when you lost the ability to read without glasses? This was the first symptom of cataract development. This condition typically occurs with age, but can also result from trauma, disease, and use of certain medications.
Several groups have an increased risk for developing cataracts and eventually need cataract surgery. Examples include:

  • Smokers
  • Diabetics
  • Steroid users
  • Patients who have experienced trauma

Everyone who lives into their 60’s develops at least mild cataracts. Early on, the cataract process not only makes your lens cloudy, it also makes your lens swell and harden a little bit. When your lens gets bigger, you become a little more near-sighted. So in the early stages of cataract, simply changing your glasses prescription will usually restore your sight.

But as you continue to get older, the cataract gets more and more cloudy, and eventually not even a change in your glasses prescription will improve your sight. At that point, the only way to restore your vision is to remove the cataract and implant a modern artificial intraocular lens. Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure performed on adults in the United States. The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, generally takes a half-hour or less, and recovery time is usually less than a few days. Prior to cataract surgery you should meet with your modern cataract surgeon to review the entire process and chose the best lens for to achieve your best vision. You will have decisions to make regarding lens implant choices. There are some standard monofocal government lenses and then there are many options for premium lens implants or advanced technology lens implants which can offer you higher definition vision, permanently. You should discuss how these lenses can enhance your vision after cataract surgery.