Older couple at home husband wife wearing prescription lenses cataract surgery

Join Clarkson Eyecare for Cataract Awareness Month

Every June, optometrists and ophthalmologists across the country join together in a common purpose to bring attention to cataracts. It’s likely you’ve heard of this condition before. You may even know someone who mentioned having cataracts. But very few people know the details behind this prevalent eye condition, or about its treatment.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cataracts are the leading cause of blindness around the world. They are responsible for over half of all cases of blindness. In the United States alone, almost 25 million people over the age of 40 are living with cataracts. Cataracts can seriously affect a person’s quality of life, forcing them to change routines or avoid normal daily activities to accommodate for their lack of sight. While this may sound scary, there’s hope.

Cataracts are a very widespread condition, but they are also highly treatable. That’s why this June, the eye doctors of Clarkson Eyecare are celebrating Cataract Awareness Month by bringing you critical information about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of cataracts. Join us in our mission to help patients just like you see a brighter future by combatting cataracts.

What Are Cataracts?

With statistics like the ones above, you may be picturing cataracts as some sort of serious plague-like eye condition, spreading across the globe, damaging everyone’s eyes to rob them of their sight. The truth is, cataracts are a relatively benign condition that are just part of the natural process of aging.

To understand how cataracts form, it’s important to understand a little about the anatomy of your eye. Inside your eye is a clear, flexible lens. This is the part of your body that helps to focus light on structures in the back of the eye (the retina) to produce signals that your brain interprets as an image. It works sort of the way a camera works. The lens itself is made of a combination of collagen, the same material found in hair and fingernails, and proteins. In fact, the majority of the lens is made up of proteins.

As we age, these proteins in the lens gradually break down. Eventually, the proteins reach a point where they start to clump together in the lens. This clumping of proteins causes the once-clear lens to begin to get cloudy. As time passes, the cloud of proteins grows larger and larger until it obstructs vision entirely. This is why people with severe cataracts may appear like they have cloudy or milky pupils. Because cataracts are a result of the body’s natural aging process, most people will develop them at some point starting after the age of 40.

Unfortunately, once a person’s lens has reached the point where the vision is compromised, surgery is necessary to correct the condition.

What Causes Cataracts to Form?

Aside from the natural aging of the eye, there are other health conditions that speed up the progression of cataracts or lead to more severe cataracts. These include diabetic eye conditions, high blood pressure, excessive use of steroids, obesity, significant alcohol consumption, exposure to too much sunlight, smoking, previous eye surgeries or injuries, and genetic factors.

While nothing can completely prevent the natural formation of cataracts, adopting healthy lifestyle habits like eating right, exercising regularly, and abstaining from smoking or excessive drinking can significantly reduce the risk of cataracts.

The Different Types of Cataracts

While all cataracts can lead to blindness and are generally treated with the same surgical procedure, you might be surprised to learn that there are different types of cataracts. Cataracts are generally classified based on where they form and at what age. There are currently five types of cataracts that eye doctors see most commonly: Nuclear, Cortical, Posterior Subcapsular, Congenital, and Secondary.

Nuclear cataracts form in the center of the lens. While you may experience a temporary improvement in nearsighted vision, eventually, the cataract will cause issues with both near and far vision. Over time this cataract can turn yellowish, or even brown, causing further issues with your sight.

Cortical cataracts form on the side of the lens and may appear as a white streak or wedge. This cataract tends to grow across the lens until it starts to block your central vision.

Posterior subcapsular cataracts form at the back of the lens and cause significant reductions in vision early on. They are some of the fastest-growing cataracts. These tend to occur in patients with diabetic eye conditions or people who have been prescribed steroids for inflammation.

Congenital cataracts are characterized by how early they form. Children are either born with congenital cataracts, or they develop them within their first year. Genetic factors are largely responsible for congenital cataracts, but they can also be caused by infections or eye injuries either in the womb our after they are born. As these types of cataracts can potentially impact a child’s visual development, it’s important they’re found and removed right away.

Secondary cataracts are a bit of a misnomer. They actually aren’t true cataracts but are actually complications associated with cataract surgery. During surgery, doctors remove your cloudy center of your natural lens and replace it with an artificial intra-ocular lens (IOL). Only the lens is removed. The lens capsule, a clear bag of tissues in which the lens sits, is not removed. About half of the time the trauma of surgery causes a scarring process that can eventually cause the lens capsule to become cloudy, making it appear as if your cataracts have returned. This condition is treated with a quick, outpatient laser treatment called YAG. It will clean off the scar tissue from the back of the intra ocular lens, after which you won’t have any more complications.

For more information on the different types of cataracts, how they form, and what symptoms to look out for, check out our comprehensive guide to cataract types.

When Should You See an Eye Doctor for Cataracts?

This is a question many of the eye doctors at Clarkson Eyecare hear often. Many patients who are told they are starting to develop cataracts naturally wonder when it’s time to seek treatment. The answer usually depends on how much it’s interrupting your daily activities. If you have a small cortical cataract that isn’t blocking vision and hasn’t developed to the point you’re having issues with glare, it may be safe to watch and wait.

That being said, there are some symptoms you should be on the lookout for that could indicate it’s time to see the doctor for cataract surgery.

  • Glare or halos around lights

  • Trouble seeing in dim or low-light settings

  • Difficulty with night driving

  • Shadowing of your vision

  • Seeing color in a yellowish hue or as extremely faded

  • Poor color vision in general

If you are experiencing any of the above, consider contacting your nearest Clarkson Eyecare and scheduling a cataract consultation appointment.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Once a cataract has fully formed, the only way to treat it is with cataract surgery. During this surgery, the doctor will make a small incision on the part of your eye where the clear cornea meets the white. A probe is used to break up the clouded natural lens and is vacuumed out. An artificial lens is inserted through the same small incision and will perform the identical job as your natural lens. Your cornea is sealed up, and the healing process begins. There are no shots or sutures, only a few eyedrops!

Normally, the whole procedure takes no more than 10 minutes. If you have cataracts in both eyes, we usually prefer to do one eye at a time with a few weeks in between surgeries, just to make sure your healing well. Recovery differs by person, but most patients report being able to resume normal daily activities after a day or two. To learn more about our surgical procedures, visit the Cataract Treatment page.

Book a Cataract Consultation at Clarkson Eyecare

With Cataract Awareness Month currently upon us, there’s never been a better time to book a cataract consultation. If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of cataracts, it’s a good idea to let a trained eye care professional take a look. Our highly-experienced doctors use the latest diagnostic technologies to identify and treat eye conditions, including cataracts. Don’t wait too long, though. The earlier we catch your cataracts, the more treatment options that will be available.

Find a Clarkson Eyecare new you and start your journey to clear, healthy vision today!

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