Almost 350,000 people in Kentucky suffer from cataracts—that’s over 17% of the state’s population. If you’re over the age of 60, that number is even higher.
Thankfully, this common eye condition doesn’t mean you’ll lose your vision for good. A qualified eye doctor can diagnose and treat cataracts to restore your sight to normal.
Don’t let cloudy vision hold you back in your daily life.
If you think that cataracts might be the cause of your vision loss, read on to find out more about the condition and its treatments.
Signs and Symptoms of Cataracts
To see the most obvious sign of cataracts, all you have to do is gaze into someone’s eyes. A cataract makes the structure behind your pupil, known as the lens, appear whitish and cloudy instead of clear and dark.
Other symptoms of cataracts aren’t as apparent to an outside observer. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Cloudy vision
- Loss of detail (often first visible when reading)
- Light sensitivity
- Double outlines around objects
- Bright colors appear faded/yellowed
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Difficulty seeing at night, especially with glare from lights
- Glasses and contacts don’t seem to work anymore
Unless someone mentions that your eyes are starting to look cloudy, you might not notice your cataracts right away.
That’s why it’s so important to get regular eye exams. Your optometrist knows how to recognize the early signs of cataracts. If you catch them right away, you might be able to take steps to slow their progression.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist will diagnose your cataracts during a routine eye exam. To get a good look at the inside of your eye, they might dilate your pupils. Plan to have someone else drive you home in case they decide to do this during your exam.
Thankfully, cataracts don’t block your vision right away. They have varying levels of severity as they progress, and if you catch them early, you’ll able to plan for their treatment.
If your doctor finds the cataract starting to form, they might have you come in for more frequent appointments to keep an eye on it. They also might talk to you about protecting your eyes from the sun, making lifestyle changes, and getting related health conditions under control. Finally, they’ll schedule you for cataract removal surgery once your vision loss is significant enough.
As always, remember to bring your current glasses or contacts with you so your doctor can take an accurate measurement of how effective (or ineffective) they are. This serves as a measurement of how much your eyes have changed since your last appointment.
What Causes Cataracts?
The most common cause of cataracts is aging. Once you enter your sixties, you’re more likely to have the beginnings of cataracts than not. This is perfectly normal and has to do with our eyes’ natural deterioration over time.
Risk factors for age-related cataracts include:
- A family history of cataracts
- Chronic smoking and/or alcohol use
- Long-term corticosteroid use
- Eye injuries
- Sun damage
Not everyone who develops cataracts due to age will need surgery to remove them. Some people’s symptoms are mild enough that they’re willing to leave them untouched. If that’s the case for you, make sure to always wear UV-blocking sunglasses outdoors to protect your eyes from more sun damage.
In rare cases, people are born with cataracts already in place. This is a congenital cataract and can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated early. This condition can be genetic or the result of illness or injury in the womb.
Traumatic cataracts develop after a person has experienced an eye injury, especially blunt force trauma. This can damage the delicate fibers that make up the lens, making it appear cloudy.
People can also get secondary cataracts as a result of other conditions. Diabetes, glaucoma, and conditions treated with steroid medicines can all put you at risk. You can also get cataracts as a side effect of radiation treatment near your head.
In the early stages of cataracts, your eye doctor may begin by recommending non-invasive methods of improving your vision.
If you’ve lost some clarity to your vision, a new eyeglass prescription or magnifying glass for reading may help. Anti-glare lens coatings and UV filters on your glasses may compensate for light sensitivity. And if you have other unrelated eye conditions, taking care of them may improve your vision even without treating the cataract directly.
But if your cataracts reach a certain point where they interfere with your life, your doctor might recommend a more permanent solution.
Surgical Cataract Removal
For some patients, surgical cataract removal is the best option for treatment. The procedure is fast and you’ll be able to return to your normal activities in only a few days.
There are a few different types of cataract surgeries, but they all follow the same basic steps. First, the ophthalmologist removes the cataract from your eye. Second, they replace your lens with an artificial one that will restore your vision.
One of these procedures is phacoemulsification. From the words “phaco-” (lens) and “emulsify” (to break into small pieces), phacoemulsification uses a thin ultrasound needle to break your affected lens into tiny fragments. The surgeon aspirates the fragments out of your eye and inserts the new lens implant.
The other main procedure uses a detailed laser to perform the surgery. It scans your eye, making a map of the exact incisions needed to remove the cataract. Your surgeon will use the laser to cut your cornea, and may also use it to soften the cataract for removal.
After completing the incisions, your surgeon will use phacoemulsification to break up the lens and implant a new one. Laser treatment for cataracts can also help reduce astigmatism.
Not everyone is a candidate for surgery, though. Make sure you talk to your eye doctor to determine which type of cataract treatment is best for you.
Don’t Let Cloudy Vision Hold You Back
If you’re tired of letting dull, cloudy vision keep you from doing the things you care about, it’s time to get evaluated for cataracts. Contact your eye doctor to start the process.
If you’re looking for an eye doctor in Lexington who’s experienced with cataract treatment, look no further than the Kentucky Eye Institute. We offer a full range of cataract treatment services from diagnosis to removal. Contact us today to make an appointment.