Cataracts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

August 15th, 2021

older man with white hair and beard getting eyes examined

Your eye’s lens is an integral part of your vision. This part of the eye helps to focus light and images on your retina, allowing your brain to see those images sharply and clearly.

When your normally clear lens becomes cloudy, like you’re looking through a fogged-up window, it’s possible that cataracts have developed. This can make it more difficult for you to read, drive a car, and even see the expression on your friend’s face.

Rest assured that cataracts do not come on suddenly and some can take years to develop to the point of disturbing your eyesight. When it does, you can correct the resulting issues with a stronger prescription or, if necessary, a simple and safe surgery.

Let’s look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments for cataracts in more detail:

What Are Cataracts?

Our eyes all have a natural lens that bends light rays that enter the eye in order for us to see.

The lens is located behind your iris (the colored part of your eye) and focuses on light that passes into your eye. This produces a clear, sharp image on the retina.

As you get older, your lenses become less flexible and thicker. This causes proteins in your lens to break down and clump together which, in turn, causes cloudy areas to form within the lens.

Over time, the cloudiness becomes denser and spreads, scatting and blocking the light that passes through the lens. This prevents a sharp image from reaching your retina and causes blurry vision.

Cataracts usually develop in both eyes but not at an even rate. A cataract in one eye may be more cloudy than the other – this will cause a difference in vision between the eyes.

What Causes Cataracts?

Aging is the most common cause of cataracts due to normal eye changes that start happening around the age of 40 when normal proteins in the lens start to break down.

By the age of 60, most people start to experience some clouding of their lenses with vision problems happening years later.

However, there are certain factors and health conditions that can speed up the formation of cataracts:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Steroids
  • Phenothiazine drugs
  • Eye surgery or eye injuries
  • Radiation treatment to the upper body
  • Prolonged and extensive exposure to sunlight without wearing sunglasses

There are also some inherited genetic disorders that can cause other health problems and increase your risk of cataracts.

How Do I Know If I Have Cataracts?

A blurry stop sign seen through impaired vision or distorted perceptions.

Cataracts are a natural part of the eye’s aging process. If you develop cataracts, the cloudiness in your eyes may only affect a small area of the lens and you may be unaware of any vision loss.

However, over time, the cloudiness will increase and cause more noticeable symptoms:

  • Sensitivity to bright sunlight, lamps, or headlights.
  • Seeing a halo or glare around lights.
  • Your prescription changes frequently or you suddenly develop nearsightedness.
  • Double vision – you see a double image when there should only be one.
  • The need for brighter light to read.
  • Difficulty seeing at night.
  • Changes in the way you see color (fading or yellowing of colors).

If you suspect that you are developing cataracts, it’s important that you visit an ophthalmologist to have your eyes tested. This eye exam involves checking your cornea, iris, lens, and other areas at the front of your eyes. 

Your retina will also be examined to check the back of your eye and you will have the sharpness and clarity of your vision assessed.

If you receive a cataract diagnosis, you should have an eye exam every year if you’re older than 65, or every two years if you are younger.

Depending on the condition of the cataracts, you may not require surgery – simply a new prescription for your eyeglasses or contacts.

In the meantime, you can protect your eyes from UV light by wearing sunglasses and hats and using brighter lights for reading and other activities. Ensure that your prescription is up-to-date and that you are wearing the right eyeglasses or contact lenses.

When it becomes difficult to complete your regular day-to-day activities because of cataracts, it may be time to consider surgery.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Ophthalmologists perform cataract-removal surgery. During this surgery, the surgeon removes the clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial lens implant.

This new implant is clear, shaped to fit your eye, and customized to your unique vision needs.

The entire procedure takes about an hour and involves the use of local anesthesia to numb the area either through injection or drops.

While you are awake for the procedure, you will not feel or see anything.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cataracts

Want to learn more? Here are some questions that are frequently asked about cataracts:

How Common Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are the most common age-related eye condition. In Canada, more than 2.5 million people have cataracts, so they are fairly common.

Are Cataracts Painful?

Overall, cataracts themselves are not painful although you may experience some sensitivity to light and glare. As they develop, you may start noticing other symptoms such as inflammation and headaches.

Are There Different Types of Cataracts?

There are! Cataract types include:

  • Nuclear Cataracts: This cataract affects the center of the lens and gradually turns more densely yellow as it progresses, which can eventually lead to difficulty distinguishing between shades of color.
  • Cortical Cataracts: These cataracts affect the edges of the lens and begin as whitish, wedge-shaped streaks that slowly extend to the center of the eye.
  • Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts: These start as a small, opaque area near the back of the lens right in the path of light and often interferes with reading vision as well as causes glares and halos around light at night.
  • Congenital Cataracts: This is a type of cataract that you are born with or develop during childhood. They may be genetic or related to trauma or infection in utero and typically do not affect vision.

Concerned About Your Eye Health?

Book an appointment with The Eye Clinic! Our professional staff can answer any questions you may have and help you take care of your ocular health!

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