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October 10, 2022

What are Cataracts?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye caused by a breakdown of proteins and fibers in the eye’s lens.. It’s one of the most common vision impairments, affecting more than 20.5 million Americans over the age of 40. By 65, more than 90 percent of people in the U.S. will develop some level of cataracts.

What are the different types of cataracts?

There are 3 primary types of cataracts:

  • Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts: These are the most common type of cataracts. They begin in the nucleus, or central part of the eye’s lens, and then expand outward. As the cataract progresses, the lens will become cloudy and may appear yellow or brown. A phenomenon called “second vision” often occurs, where up-close vision becomes clearer, while distance vision suffers. This is only temporary. Failure to replace the lens may result in blindness.
  • Cortical Cataracts: Cortical cataracts work in the opposite direction of Nuclear Sclerotic cataracts. They start on the edges of the eye and work their way toward the middle. They begin as whitish streaks on the outer edge of the lens, which often cause the person to experience glare from bright lights.
  • Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts: These cataracts develop on the back surface of the eye’s lens, beneath the lens capsule. They often develop quickly and begin to obstruct vision in a matter of months.

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What are cataracts?

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Outside of the visible clouding of the eye, cataracts affect our vision in a myriad of different ways. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Cloudy, blurred, or dim vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Seeing glare or “halos” around lights
  • Color distortion
  • Double vision

If you’re over the age of 65 and find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to schedule an exam with your eye doctor.

What does vision look like with cataracts?

Seeing through the cloudy lens of a cataract has been described like looking through a foggy or frosty window. You might not even notice that you have a cataract at first, as they tend to develop slowly over time.

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts are caused when aging or injury cause the proteins and fibers in the lens of the eye to break down. In rare cases, cataracts are caused by a genetic disorder or appear at child birth.

How to prevent cataracts

Nobody can stay young forever, but there are some lifestyle changes you can make that will lessen your chances of developing cataracts. Doctors recommend:

  • Maintaining high levels of antioxidants, like vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids)
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and corticosteroids
  • Protect your eyes from UV rays
  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid diabetes

Cataract surgery

When a cataract is present, surgery is the most-commonly prescribed and safest treatment option. Worldwide, approximately 10 million cataract surgeries are performed each year. Cataract surgery is nearly painless and has a success rate of 97-98%, but complications can occur. The surgery involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens implant.

When to have cataract surgery?

The short answer is— as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult the surgery will be. Untreated cataracts become more dense as time goes on, and can eventually develop into “hyper-mature” cataracts. This can lead to complications during surgery.

How long does it take to recover from cataract surgery?

It can take as long as 8 weeks to recover from cataract surgery, but most people can resume normal activities within 48 hours. Post-surgery, it’s important to keep your eyes protected from bright light sources and use medicated eye drops as prescribed.

Can cataracts come back?

No, but it’s a common misconception that they can. An intraocular lens implant cannot develop a new cataract. However, some people develop “secondary cataracts” as a result of complications from the surgery. These secondary cataracts develop on the back of the lens, also known as a Posterior Subcapsular cataract, which we covered earlier. Luckily, these secondary cataracts are relatively easy to correct. They require just one, painless procedure to restore vision.

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