Cataracts & Cataract Causes, Symptoms & Risks at The Eye Clinic of Texas serving greater Houston in Galveston, Texas City & League City.

By Da-Thuy Van, D.O.

Knowing someone that has a cataract in Houston or Galveston 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 common. 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 onto the retina (the back of your eye), providing a crisp, clear image. As we age, however, 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.

What Causes Cataracts?
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

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?
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.

What can you do to reduce your risk of getting a Cataract?
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.

How is a Cataract detected?
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.

Cataracts in Children
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s normally clear lens. The lens of the eye plays an important role in focusing images on the retina, the light-sensitive nerve cells lining the back of the eye. If the lens loses its clarity, light rays do not focus clearly, and your vision becomes blurry. Just as it is hard to see through a dirty window, it is hard to see through a cataract. Although most cataracts occur in older adults, they can appear in children, in one or both eyes, often at birth. They look like a white or gray spot in the pupil.

Cataracts in children can be inherited, or they can develop because of an infection or a disease acquired before birth. They can also be caused by an injury. In most cases, no specific cause is found.
Children may lose vision permanently because of amblyopia (“lazy eye”) if a severe cataract is not removed quickly. The better eye may also need to be patched. Mild cataracts may not need treatment.

The focusing power of the original lens, removed during cataract surgery, must be replaced to restore vision. Intraocular lenses (IOLs), permanent synthetic lenses placed inside the eye, can be implanted in older children much as they are in adults. In infants and small children, IOLs are controversial because a child’s eyes change and grow during the first few years of life, and the prescription needed for good vision changes as well. Many surgeons prefer contact lenses or even eyeglasses for younger children.

Regardless of the type of correction, children need follow-up exams to avoid possible complications, which can include glaucoma, scar tissue formation in the pupil, and amblyopia. Often, children will need eye muscle surgery if the eye “turns” or “crosses.” Despite these problems, cataracts are the single most treatable cause of childhood blindness.

If you or someone you know is concerned about cataracts or needs a cataract eye exam please call The Eye Clinic of Texas at 800-423-3937.