Cataracts are the number one cause of reversible vision loss in the world. While cataracts can cloud your vision, they don’t have to cloud your life. I was drawn to this Ophthalmology medical specialty because of the profound life change I could make with his patients. Surgical treatment of cataracts can completely restore a patient’s vision. There are very few other types of conditions where complete recovery can be achieved by a very simple outpatient surgery.
The most common first symptom of cataracts is when patients start experiencing trouble driving at night. Cataracts will end up happening to all of us if we live long enough. People can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s. But during middle age, most cataracts are small and do not affect vision. It is after age 60 that most cataracts cause problems with a person’s vision.
Besides noticing trouble driving at night, patients experience other early symptoms of cataracts as well. Patients also have certain risk factors, from genetic disorders to environmental factors to early eye injuries and conditions.
Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens. Some inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems can increase your risk of cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by other eye conditions, past eye surgery or medical conditions such as diabetes. Long-term use of steroid medications, too, can cause cataracts to develop.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens that is positioned behind the iris. The lens focuses light that passes into your eye, producing clear, sharp images on the retina (the light-sensitive membrane in the eye that functions like the film in a camera.) As you age, the lenses in your eyes become less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Age-related and other medical conditions cause tissues within the lens to break down and clump together, clouding small areas within the lens.
As the cataract continues to develop, the clouding becomes denser and involves a bigger part of the lens. A cataract scatters and blocks the light as it passes through the lens, preventing a sharply defined image from reaching your retina. As a result, your vision becomes blurred.
There are a variety of different symptoms you can develop over time that starts to indicate you might have cataracts. Some of these symptoms include cloudy or blurry vision, faded-looking colors, glare from headlights, lamps or sunlight, poor night vision, double vision, multiple images in one eye, frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses and/or the need for brighter light when reading or for other activities.
The good news is that cataracts can be cured. It’s very rewarding when a patient’s vision is restored. Patients often end up seeing better than they have ever seen before. Proactively checking for cataracts is a must. The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
If you have a family history of vision loss, it’s important to see an eye care professional even if you are not experiencing any symptoms or problems at the moment. Early cataract detection is key because we can do something about it before your vision becomes so affected that it impacts your everyday life.
Jason Swanner, MD is board certified in Ophthalmology and practices with Callahan Eye Hospital at Medical West in Bessemer. He was named as one of “America’s Best Doctors” in 2016 and 2017. Call (205) 481-7870 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Swanner and his team.
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