- Vision & Eye Care
Eyes and Cataracts
Your Eyes And Cataracts
A great deal of the world around you comes to you through your eyes, and cataracts can and will adversely affect what and how you see. But what are cataracts? How and why are they created? What can be done about them?
All good questions, and of supreme importance to anyone losing their eyesight as a result of cataracts. There is little worse than gradually losing the ability to see clearly, watching as the world slowly disappears, but there are solutions. You can regain that sight.
This article is but one in a series, and is intended to give an overview of what cataracts are and how they can affect your life. Others go into more detail of what can be done about them and the experiences and effects of having cataracts and cataract surgery. If, after understanding what cataracts are, you feel that you may have cataracts be sure to get an eye exam and have a doctor check your eyes for cataracts.
Examples Of Cataracts
What Are Cataracts?
In a normal eye, one of the primary functions is to focus the light entering the eye on the retina in the back of the eye. This is done via a lens, similar to a magnifying glass, in the front of the eye. As light passes through the crystal clear lens it is bent and focused onto the small section of receptors at the back.
When cataracts develop, that lens becomes clouded. It still works, to a degree, but the light entering is no longer focused properly. It is scattered by the clouded lens, it is reduced in strength, and it is discolored. Taking all of these effects together, they eye no longer produces a clear, sharp picture of what is being looked at.
That cloudiness is most often the result of age. The lens itself has changed; it is not a coating of some kind on the lens, but the material of the lens itself that is at fault. Cataracts cannot be removed without removing the entire lens.
Everyone that lives long enough will develop cataracts, although the age at which they occur varies tremendously between individuals and can range from the very young until well into the 80's. In any case, it is only a matter of time before cataracts develop; few people escape them entirely.
In addition, some diseases can promote the growth of cataracts. Congenital Rubella Syndrome (caused by rubella during the early months of pregnancy) is but one example that can cause cataracts in very young children.
The photos to the right both show severe cases of cataracts, and both people will be very nearly blind as a result. There is seldom a reason for allowing the disease to progress that far, however, and correction is simple and easy.
Effects Of Cataracts
The Results Of Cataracts
The effects of having cataracts are many and varied, and not everyone will have all the symptoms. Nevertheless, there are some that are very common and provide an early warning that cataracts may be developing.
- Dimming and blurring of vision. Often written off as presbyopia, or the loss of ability to focus as a result normal aging, blurring can be a sign of cataracts.
- Halos or glare from around lights. Lights, artificial or not, appear with a halo around them or abnormal amounts of glare. Driving at night can become difficult as a result.
- Double vision. Cataracts can produce double vision as the focusing ability is lost.
- Faded colors. Vibrancy of color slowly disappears as cataracts develop and the world looks faded out.
- Feeling of a "film" over the eyes. Those suffering from cataracts frequently complain that there is a film over their eyes.
- Frequent cleaning of glasses. Those already wearing glasses tend to clean them frequently, trying to get rid of the fog produced by cataracts.
- The world turns yellow. Although seldom noticed until the cataracts are removed, the world often takes on a dingy, yellowish tint.
- If only one eye is affected, a loss of depth perception. The brain will "shut down" that one eye, leaving only one eye to see with. It takes two eyes to produce depth perception so much of that ability can be lost.
Part of the problem with self-diagnosing cataracts is that many of these symptoms are shared with other problems. In addition, they often come on so slowly that they are hardly noticed for some time. The yellowish tint, for instance, is seldom reported at all until after the problem is repaired and white is actually white again. If you feel that you may have cataracts a visit to an ophthalmologist is necessary for complete diagnosis.
The two photos to the right may give an idea of what cataracts do. Colors have faded out, focus has decreased, and detail is lost. The most obvious change when one begins to get cataracts is probably that loss of focus; reading becomes difficult whether a book or a computer screen. Details of everything is lost, sometimes to the point that a person standing 50 feet away can't be identified.
Getting Rid Of Cataracts
Once you have positively identified cataracts the next step is to get rid of them, and that means surgery. Although the very thought of someone cutting into your eye is frightening to say the least, cataract surgery is the most common surgery in the world and has a very high success rate.
Performed on an outpatient basis, the actual surgery normally takes only about 15 minutes and recovery is short. You should be home within a couple of hours, and able to perform most daily tasks within a day or two.
Cataract surgery consists of removing the old lens and implanting a new artificial lens. You will be asked to choose a lens, either a standard lens or one of the newer "premium" lenses, and the choice is not easy. Premium lenses (an IOL) will cost considerably more, is generally not covered by insurance, and there are other considerations as well. For a more complete discussion of choosing an IOL or having cataract surgery, please see the next article in this series. It goes into much more detail than can be done here.
Whatever you do, though, don't simply do nothing. Your vision is a very important part of your life and must not be allowed to deteriorate. If cost is a prohibiting factor don't let it continue to be one; there are options if you have no insurance or can't cover the deductible if you do. If the thought of the surgery itself is putting you off making a decision, don't let it - the surgery is quick, painless and nothing to be concerned about. If your eyes are failing because of cataracts, do something about it!