Cataracts are a cloudiness in the eye’s lens. The lens lies behind the iris, the colored portion of the eye, and the pupil, the dark center of the iris. The eye’s lens works similarly to a camera lens. Light focuses on the retina at the back of the eye and the lens adjusts the eye’s focus. When the eye is healthy and these parts work as they should, we can see distant and close objects clearly.
The lens, made primarily of protein and water, is designed to remain clear and allow light to pass through it. As the eyes age, portions of the protein begin to clump together. This clumping creates areas of opacity on the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and more of the lens becomes clouded, reducing what you can see.
There are three types of cataracts:
- Cortical cataract: This type forms in the cortex of the lens and is common among diabetics.
- Subcapsular cataract: This type begins at the back of the lens and is more common among people who have diabetes, severe farsightedness or retinitis pigmentosa, or who take high doses of steroids.
- Nuclear cataract: This type forms in the center of the lens, called the nucleus, and is common as the eye ages.
Cataract Signs and Symptoms
The typical cataract begins small and generally does not affect vision, other than perhaps a bit of additional blurriness. Light may also seem too bright, or colors may appear duller.
Signs and symptoms of cataracts depend on the type of cataract you have. For example, a nuclear cataract may bring about temporary improvement in near vision, but this disappears as the cataract worsens. A subcapsular cataract may bring about no symptoms at all until it has grown quite large.
Causes of Cataracts
Eye specialists do not know for sure why these changes occur in the lens as we grow older. Studies suggest ultraviolet light exposure may be one cause. Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when out in the sun to minimize your exposure. People with diabetes are at higher risk for cataracts. Certain medications may also be a cause.
You may be able to forestall the development of cataracts with a diet low in sodium and high in antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E. Avoiding cigarette smoke, environmental pollution and heavy alcohol consumption may also be useful.
When cataracts first develop, a new vision prescription and better lighting may be all you need. As your cataracts grow and impair your vision, the best treatment is cataract surgery, which removes the damaged lens and replaces it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). Three FDA-approved IOLs are Crystalens®, ReSTOR® and ReZoom™.
Poor vision is not an inevitable “side effect” of aging. You can potentially have clear vision for life by taking the steps necessary to care properly for your eyes, Cataract surgery is one way to do so, and is a simple, virtually painless method for regaining clear vision. In fact, more than 3 million Americans undergo cataract surgery every year.
Why not schedule a vision consultation to protect your vision? In Seattle, Washington and the surrounding communities, people choose Bellevue Lasik and Cornea, under the skillful direction of Dr. Kent Leavitt.