In reality, most people tend to take their eyesight for granted on a daily basis — only until it starts to bother them. But when it comes to the development of cataracts, some of the causes are just out of our control. A healthy, fully functional eye consists of clear tissue. It’s the job of this clear tissue to direct light onto the retina, which enables us to see clearly. However, when this tissue becomes damaged, this can lead to sight problems. And today, one of the leading causes is cataracts. But what are cataracts, exactly, and how do they form? This blog outlines everything you need to know.
What Are Cataracts and What Causes Them?
In today’s day and age, cataracts are a common part of life for many people over the age of 60. In fact, the National Eye Institute estimates that up to half the U.S. population will develop at least one cataract by the age of 80.
In short, this tells us that cataracts are closely associated with aging and the natural degeneration of the eyes. However, there are a number of other factors that contribute to their development.
So, what are they?
When the proteins in the lens of your eye begin to break down, this can lead to the development of cataracts. Essentially, the lens of your eye becomes cloudy or blurred, causing major changes to your quality of vision. You can develop cataracts in one eye at a time, or both at the same time.
The unfortunate reality of cataracts is that they tend to get progressively worse if you don’t do anything about them. That’s why it’s so important to meet with an eye specialist about your vision changes and the options available to you.
Types of Cataracts
Cataracts manifest in different shapes and sizes according to the region of the lens they affect. Some of the most common forms of cataracts include:
- Cortical — they tend to impact the edge of the lens of the eye, causing white marks and streaks that extend across to the center of the lens
- Nuclear — these cataracts form in the middle of the lens, causing cloudy vision and yellowing of the center of the eye
- Posterior subcapsular — this type of cataract forms on the back of the lens. It may start off as a small, opaque spot that appears in the path of your vision, then gets progressively worse over time
Posterior cataracts tend to develop and worsen far quicker than other cataract types. But generally, most people with cataracts experience clouded vision, as if they are looking through a dirty windshield or wax paper. Cataracts can also impact your perception of color and texture.
What Causes Cataracts?
The proteins that comprise the lens of the eye are specifically arranged in order to allow for clear vision. But over time and with age, these proteins may begin to move and clump together, leading to blurred vision.
As the condition progresses, these clumps of protein only increase in size, which can have a dire effect on your vision, based on where the cataract develops within your lens. So, what are some of the most common causes and risk factors for cataracts?
- Cataracts may be hereditary — you’re at greater risk with a family history of cataracts
- Increased exposure to harsh sunlight, over extended periods of time
- Living with diabetes
- Living with hypertension
- Injury or inflammation of the eye
- The long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroid drugs
- If you’ve ever received radiation treatment, especially on the upper body
- Smoking and drinking alcohol in excess puts you at greater risk
Most of the time, cataracts tend to develop due to the natural aging process. However, in some rare cases, people are born with cataracts or they can develop during childhood.
This condition is called congenital cataracts. This where cataracts develop due to genetic causes, infection or trauma in-utero, viruses, and other immune disorders.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Once you’ve seen your ophthalmologist and received a diagnosis, what options do you have in terms of treating cataracts? In many cases, lens surgery is the preferred option in order to reverse it. However, this step is not always 100 percent necessary immediately after a diagnosis.
Cataract surgery also depends on a few crucial factors. Some of these include the quality of your overall health, the extent of your cataracts, and how much they impact your day-to-day life. If you can still carry out daily tasks such as driving, reading, using public transport, etc., then you might not need surgery right away.
But it’s worth noting that they tend to worsen over time. So, the longer you leave cataract surgery, the worse your eyesight could become. On the other hand, delaying surgery does not impact the final outcome as the surgery focuses on replacing your lens entirely.
Cataract surgery is also quite simple and nothing to be wary of. It’s a procedure that takes no more than 30-minutes or so and requires very little downtime. All you need is a couple of days to recover, then you can resume most of your day-to-day activities. As mentioned, the surgery focuses on replacing your current lens with a clear lens implant to restore your vision.
Currently, there is no other treatment that completely remedies the issue of cataracts, besides surgery. However, if you want to delay surgery for some time, there are ways to slow the development of your cataracts:
- Protect your eyes at all times from UV light by wearing specific, UV spectacles and sunglasses
- Ensure the prescription for your glasses is up-to-date
- Invest in a pair of anti-glare reading glasses and sunglasses
You might also need to use brighter lighting to perform certain tasks or use a magnifying device for reading. But ultimately, you don’t want to wait too long to rectify your vision as living with poor eyesight can have a dire impact on your quality of life.
Say Goodbye to Cataracts With KEI
We hope this blog has answered your questions on ”what are cataracts?”. If you or a loved one is struggling with blurry vision, don’t delay, visit Kentucky Eye Institute (KEI) for a thorough examination.
Along with cataract services, we also offer prescription services, LASIK surgery, retina and glaucoma services, and more. Get in touch with our team to schedule your next check-up!