Do I Have Cataracts?
As we age, we notice various parts of our body begin to slow down or function less optimally than before. Your eyes are no different. Many people talk about how their vision changes over time. Cataracts are often a natural part of the aging process, but how do you know when you have a cataract and when you need a new prescription for your glasses or contacts?
Symptoms of Cataracts
In the early stages, cataract development can be so subtle that you hardly notice. More prominent symptoms emerge as the cataract continues to develop. Some signs you may be developing a cataract include the following:
- Your night vision is growing worse
- Your vision seems cloudy or foggy
- Colors have lost their vibrance or seem to have a yellowish tint
- You’ve become more sensitive to light or glare
- You have increasing difficulty reading fine print
- You see “halos” around lighted objects
- You’re experiencing double vision in one eye
- You find yourself changing glasses prescriptions more often than usual
- It’s becoming more difficult to distinguish shades of color
A cataract occurs as you age because the lenses of our eyes can become thicker and less flexible. This lack of flexibility results in the breakdown of eye tissue which, over time, forms a cloudy lens. That cloudy lens is what we call a cataract. Because vision depends on light entering the eye through the lens and being projected onto the retina, a cloudy lens impacts how the light enters the eye. This scattering of light is what causes your vision to blur and images to appear less sharp.
If your doctor catches a cataract early in its development, he or she may choose to watch it for progression before immediately recommending surgery. Surgery isn’t usually suggested until the cataract impacts your quality of life.
While cataracts generally occur in both eyes, there are occasions in which a patient only has one cataract. For those with cataracts in both eyes, those cataracts don’t usually develop at the same rate. One eye is worse than the other. Eye surgeons typically only perform cataract surgery on one eye at a time, choosing the worse of the two to operate on first. This allows the first eye to recover before the second undergoes the surgical procedure.
What Do Cataracts Look Like?
Fully developed cataracts appear as a film behind the iris of you eye. (The iris is the colored part of your eye, visible to the outside world.) When you remember that a cataract is a build-up of tissue, you can envision the film looking like a wet layer of tissue paper behind the eye.
Are Cataracts Hereditary? (Risk Factors for Cataracts)
One of the biggest factors in determining whether or not you will develop cataracts is family history of cataracts. If your parents and grandparents developed cataracts, it’s likely you will, too. That being said, genetics isn’t the only risk factor. Any of the following circumstances will increase the likelihood of cataracts, too.
- You have diabetes
- Your eyes are frequently exposed to sunlight
- You have been exposed to ionizing radiation in the form of x-rays or cancer treatment
- You are a smoker or have a history of smoking
- You have been on certain medications (eg. corticosteroids) for a prolonged amount of time
- You have a history of eye inflammation, eye surgery, or an eye injury
If you have some of the symptoms of cataracts, have a family history of cataracts, and fit into one of these other risk factors, it’s important to schedule an eye exam so a doctor at Shasta Eye Medical Group can diagnose and recommend a treatment for your cataracts sooner rather than later.
Types of Cataracts
Surprisingly, not all cataracts are the same. Thinking about the build-up of eye tissue, it’s easy to see how the build-up could occur in different locations on the lens of your eye. The type of cataract you have is determined by where it develops and how it impacts your vision. There are four different types of cataracts.
- Nuclear cataracts develop in the middle of the eye lens and are sometimes characterized by increased nearsightedness. Eventually, patients notice a yellowing to browning of the lens that can make distinguishing color shades difficult.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts form at the back of the lens. As a result, they interfere with light’s path which results in difficulty reading, poor vision in bright light, and a halo or glare around lights at night.
- Cortical cataracts begin developing at the outer lens of the eye and work their way toward the center. Vision impacts include glare problems.
- Unlike the other types of cataracts, congenital cataracts are present at birth. They are usually the result of a prenatal infection in the mom or a congenital medical condition, such as rubella, myotonic dystrophy, Lowe’s syndrome, or galactosemia.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Cataracts
A formal cataract diagnosis needs to come from an ophthalmologist. The doctor will begin by performing a comprehensive eye exam that could include any or all of the following tests:
- During a visual acuity test, you cover one eye at a time and read the letters on an eye chart.
- A retinal exam involves examining your eyes so the doctor can fully examine the health of your retinas.
- A slit-lamp exam magnifies the front of your eye to allow the doctor to determine if any abnormalities exist.
Once a cataract diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will determine a treatment plan based on how far along the cataract development is as well as your specific needs. If the cataract is in an early developmental phase, the doctor will likely as to see you again at a later date to follow up on the progression. There’s no need for surgery if the cataract is not impacting your quality of life.
If surgery is required, doctors usually choose to treat one eye at a time, even if cataracts exist in both eyes. This allows for some recovery time between procedures.
During cataract surgery, the eye is numbed with local anesthesia before the surgeon removes the clouded lens and replaces it with an intraocular lens (IOL). For the best IOL for you, consult with your doctor. Technological advances mean you have options for your replacement lenses.
To schedule a comprehensive eye exam, if you suspect you may have cataracts, or if you’re experiencing vision problems, please call the team of professionals at Shasta Eye Medical Group. We’re here to help.