Symptoms, Risks & Causes of Cataracts

Knowing someone that has a cataract is likely to become more and more common as our population continues to age and the baby boomers in and around Houston enter the time when cataracts become most prevalent.

The eye works like a camera, and like a camera, depends on a clear lens to properly focus images.

A healthy, transparent lens absorbs light and accurately focuses it on the retina which is the thin layer of light sensitive tissue in the back of your eye. This provides a crisp, clear image. As we age, proteins in the lens begin to clump together, forming opaque clusters. Over time, these protein clumps will eventually cloud the lens, allowing significantly less light to pass through.

The small amount of light that does make it to the retina is diffused or scattered, leaving vision defocused. These clusters can also change the coloration of the normally clear lens, tinting it a brownish shade that affects color perception. Eyeglasses or contact lenses can usually correct slight refractive errors caused by early cataracts, but they cannot sharpen your vision if a severe cataract is present. Cataracts can occur in one eye or both or neither but can never spread from one eye to the other.

A majority of cataracts develop on their own, as part of the natural aging process, there are certain risk factors that can contribute to cataracts developing earlier or at an accelerated rate.

  • Trauma to the eye
  • Tobacco, alcohol or corticosteroids
  • Exposure to radiation, X-rays or ultraviolet light
  • Certain diseases, including diabetes, thyroid and glaucoma

Cataracts generally develop slowly and painlessly. Cataracts are the most common cause of treatable vision loss in people 55 and over—sooner or later, you are bound to experience one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Blurred vision – Blurriness is one of the earliest and most common signs of cataracts. Changing your prescription may help, but it can’t correct the problem permanently.
  • Faded or dull colors – Colors appear less vivid than they once were. Certain shades can become more difficult to differentiate from one another.
  • Poor night vision – At first, you may simply need more light to read. Over time, you may find it more difficult to see objects in the dark, particularly when driving.
  • Sensitivity to light – Lights may seem uncomfortably bright, or appear to have halos around them.

Left untreated, cataracts have the potential to cause a complete loss of vision.

Reducing your exposure to ultraviolet light by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses may reduce your risk for developing a cataract, but once one has developed, there is no cure except to have the cataract surgically removed. Also, researchers believe that good nutrition can reduce the risk of age-related cataracts. They recommend eating green, leafy vegetables, fruit and other foods with antioxidants. Also eliminating exposure to smoking and alcohol helps.

A cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes visual acuity check for best vision, intraocular pressure check, dilated fundus exam to look at the optic nerve, retina, macula, and of course, the lens or cataract.