June is Cataract Awareness month. Most of us have heard of cataracts before but a lot of patients don't know exactly what they are. It's easy to confuse glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration if you don't know someone personally who has experienced these conditions. Let's address cataracts today and clear up some of the confusion.
We have a natural ("crystalline") lens in our eye that bends light rays to help us see. When we are born, the lens is clear and this is how light reaches the back of the eye. Over time the lens can become cloudy which makes the light coming into our eye cloudy as well. It also causes extra glare and light sensitivity. This is a cataract. I compare our natural clear lens to a freshly cleaned window. It is easy to see through. Colors are true and everything will look in focus. However, if you are looking through a dirty or smudged window, colors may appear less vibrant, objects may appear out of focus and possibly even double. Light going through the window will have a lot of reflections and glare. This is what it can feel like if you have a cataract.
Common Cataract Symptoms:
Double Vision (often glare or shadowing around edges)
Trouble driving at night or watching TV in the dark
Age is the most common cause of a cataract. Normal changes in the eye after the age of 50 cause clouding of the crystalline lens. Other causes include genetics, certain medical conditions (diabetes, auto-immune conditions, and more), smoking, UV exposure, previous ocular surgeries, and long term use of certain medications (oral steroids especially).
Prevention is key. You can minimize your risk of cataract development and help slow the progression of cataracts by wearing sunglasses with 100% UVA & UVB protection. If you smoke, talk to your doctor for advice on how to reduce your dependency on tobacco products. If you notice any symptoms of cataracts, schedule an eye exam to discuss these changes with your optometrist.
Cataracts are a normal development and if we live long enough we will all develop cataracts to a certain extent. Oftentimes, cataracts develop slowly and do not get in the way of our normal day-to-day activities. Surgery is not recommended until symptoms affect your quality of life. Luckily we have a lot of very talented and specialized cataract surgeons who make the procedure as quick and easy as possible. Cataract surgery is so common, it is actually one of the top surgeries Medicare covers each year because so many people need it.
If you are unsure if you have cataracts or would like more information about them, schedule your eye exam today. Your optometrist can let you know what may be causing your symptoms and the best treatment options for you.