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What is a Cataract? Symptoms & Treatment

What is a Cataract? Symptoms & Treatment

How often do you have to squint at billboards or signs? Or have you ever missed waving back hello to a friend because you couldn’t recognize their face from a distance? If you are over fifty and have been troubled by clouded vision, there is a high chance that you might be suffering from cataracts. Wondering what is cataract? Let’s get to know more about this eye condition in detail.

What is Cataract?

Cataract is a clouded patch that appears on the natural lens of the eyes leading to hazy and blurred vision that appears like a frosty fogged-up window or as if there is a veil in front of the eyes. These cloudy patches are protein buildup that prevents the light from entering the eyes and cause difficulty even in basic activities like driving or reading.

The lens of our eye is placed behind the iris and it helps focus light onto the retina for clear and sharp images. However, with increasing age, the lenses become less flexible, thicker and less transparent. Due to aged-related or other medical causes, proteins and fibres within the eye lenses break down and clump together to form cataracts. Cataracts keep developing gradually and eventually intensify cloudiness in vision. The film-like layer of cataract scatters and blocks the light from entering the eye and prevents the formation of a clear image on the retina.

Cataracts usually develop in both eyes but not necessarily at the same rate. Cataract in one eye may be more advanced and intense as compared to the other eye, leading to a disparity in vision. Since it is an eye condition that develops slowly, you won’t notice an obvious change in vision at an early stage. Better lighting and corrective eyeglasses can be a relief during the initial period, but if the condition worsens, you might need cataract surgery. Don’t worry; it’s not as risky as it sounds and is a generally safe and effective cataract treatment. 

Did you know that eye cataract is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world? Are you among the fraction of people who are at risk of developing cataracts? What causes cataracts? Is age a risk factor?

Cataract Causes

As mentioned above, the main reason behind the development of cataracts is the accumulation of protein and fibres. But what causes cataracts and what are the risk factors that lead to this gradually blinding buildup?

  • Increasing age and age-related eye diseases
  • Prolonged history of diabetes
  • Excessive unprotected exposure to sunlight
  • Habitual smoking may also lead to the degeneration of the lenses and eye cataract
  • Obesity and high cholesterol related medical issues
  • Trauma or injury to the eye
  • Previous eye surgery may have led to changes in the eye tissues
  • Habitual alcohol consumption
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid medications
  • Genetics also plays a major role in determining eye health

Cataract Symptoms

Here are some of the common cataract symptoms that can be the red flags that tell you that you need an immediate appointment with your optometrist:

  • Blurred and hazy vision that feels like looking through thick fog
  • Difficulty in performing daily activities like reading, driving, or recognizing people’s facial expressions
  • Increased and intensified sensitivity to glare
  • Difficulty in adjusting to dim light or night vision
  • Constant need for brighter light to see better during reading or watching TV
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass prescriptions
  • Seeing halos around light sources
  • Fading colours or yellowing of colours
  • Double vision in the affected eye/eyes
  • Acute nearsightedness, especially in older people
  • Clouded patches in the field of vision

One of the major reasons why cataract goes undetected in the early stage is because cataract symptoms are initially unnoticeable. It is only much later, with the expansion of cataracts, that the vision loss and other symptoms become obvious. Regular appointments with your eye doctor can help you prevent and diagnose the condition early.

Types of Cataract

Yes, you read that right. There are several types of cataracts based on the position of cataracts in the eye. The types of cataracts include:

  1. Nuclear cataracts: These are the eye cataracts that affect the centre of the eye lenses. Initially, these cataracts may improve your reading vision for a short while because of nearsightedness. However, gradually, your vision deteriorates because the lenses start becoming denser and turn yellowish. In an advanced stage of this eye condition, the lenses may also turn brown and cause trouble in distinguishing between vivid colours.
  1. Cortical cataracts: These are the eye cataracts that develop on the edges of the lenses. An opaque cloudiness forms on the outer edge of the lens cortex as whitish, wedge-shaped patches. These patches then extend from the edges to the centre and prevent light from passing through the lens to the light-sensitive retina.
  1. Posterior subcapsular cataracts: These are small opaque patches that start forming in the back of the lenses, in the direct path of light to the retina. This type of eye cataract is responsible for deteriorating reading vision, heightened sensitivity to light and glare, and halos around light sources at night. These cataracts develop faster as compared to the other types of cataract.
  1. Congenital cataracts: Since genetics is a crucial risk factor of eye cataract, there are people who are born with this eye condition. In other cases, some people might also develop cataracts in childhood as a result of eye trauma, infection, or injury. Congenital cataracts may also be caused due to myotonic dystrophy, galactosemia, or rubella. Vision loss by congenital cataracts is not mandatory but once diagnosed, it can be immediately eliminated to prevent any complications in the future.

Cataract Treatment

Before we get into cataract treatments, let’s know how cataracts are detected. When you experience symptoms or go through a routine eye checkup, your doctor might raise suspicion about eye cataracts. These are some of the common ways your doctor might use to determine and detect cataracts:

  • Visual acuity test
  • Slit-lamp exam
  • Retinal exam

Once detected, the only way to get rid of eye cataracts is to get cataract surgery. However, in the early stages, corrective prescription eyeglasses prove to be a good enough cataract treatment to help your lenses function well. For reading troubles and dim light vision problems, sitting in a brighter and better-lit room might help. For driving and walking at night, getting a pair of glasses with an anti-glare coating might help.

Cataract surgery is a safe and effective cataract treatment wherein the eye surgeon removes the cloudy lenses and replaces them with artificial ones. It is a common procedure that uses local anaesthesia to numb your eye and takes just around 15 to 20 minutes. In case you have cataract in both eyes, your eye surgeon might perform the procedure on one eye and wait for full recovery before treating the other one. The surgeries are mostly successful and help patients see better with restored clarity and focus.

There are three types of cataract surgeries based on the size of the cataract or specific eye-related concerns.

  • Phacoemulsification or small-incision surgery
  • Extracapsular cataract extraction or large-incision surgery
  • Femtosecond laser surgery

If you live in Melbourne, for high-technology testing and accurate diagnosis of cataracts, book an appointment at The Eye Lab today. Don’t take your precious eyesight for granted and save your vision from eye cataracts.

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