Cataracts develop as the chemical composition of the eye’s natural lens changes during the aging process, making the lens opaque and often hard. A large percentage of people over the age of 65 develop cataracts and therefore need cataract surgery. In North Carolina, our Fayetteville area eye centers offer innovative cataract treatments to restore vision loss and prevent blindness due to cataracts.
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What is a cataract?
A cataract occurs when the natural lens inside the eye becomes clouded. In a healthy eye, the lens is clear and able to focus light perfectly onto the retina. It is located just behind the iris (the colored portion of the eye), helping to produce images of the objects in your field of vision.
When a lens becomes clouded, it hinders the eye’s ability to produce a clear, accurate view of the world. Like the clouded or smudged lens of a camera, a cataract results in blurred or otherwise distorted images. People with cataracts often complain of blurry vision and may find everyday activities such as driving or reading difficult. If left untreated, the lens continues to grow more opaque and vision becomes worse over time, eventually resulting in blindness.
What causes cataracts?
In most people, cataracts are the result of aging. While researchers have not concluded what exactly causes lenses to cloud over as a person gets older, studies suggest that chronic exposure to ultraviolet light may induce cataract development.
Cataracts, in addition to glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, are one of the most common eye conditions experienced by people with diabetes. The link between diabetes and cataracts remains unclear, although research on the connection between nutrition and eye health is ongoing.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
In the early stages of cataracts there are typically no symptoms. As a cataract develops, it may cause blurry or clouded vision and reading difficulties. Sensitivity to light may also occur, making it difficult to drive at night due to glare from the headlights of oncoming cars. Colors may lose their vibrancy, appearing dull or yellowish. Eventually, in the late stages of cataracts, the pupils appear yellowish or milky white, and vision is reduced solely to the ability to distinguish between light and dark. If you think you may be developing cataracts, our doctors in the Fayetteville areas of North Carolina, can provide you with a comprehensive eye exam and help you to restore your vision.
Are there different types of cataracts?
Yes. There are three distinct types of cataracts: nuclear sclerosis, cortical, and posterior subcapsular.
Nuclear sclerosis cataracts develop gradually over time. The lenses increasingly harden and turn yellow and brown, and distance vision and the ability to distinguish colors are adversely affected. While reading vision may actually improve in the early stages of cataract development, increasing nearsightedness will ultimately cause both far and near vision to deteriorate without proper treatment.
Cortical cataracts are marked by opaque lens fibers that develop in a spoke-like formation beginning at the outer edges of the lens and extending toward the center. Typically, this condition causes glare that makes it difficult to see at night. Cortical cataracts are most commonly seen in diabetic patients.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts form on the backside of the lens, typically at its center, where they cause rapid and severe visual impairment. Glare, poor vision in bright light, and reading difficulties are common symptoms. Steroid use has been linked to the development of posterior subcapsular cataracts as well.
Who is at risk for cataracts?
A major study suggests that everyone is at risk for cataracts, provided they live long enough. The effects of aging on the chemical composition of the eye’s lens cause some lens opacity to develop as people age, although the extent of the opacity varies widely. More than 90 percent of people over the age of 75 have cloudy areas on their lenses and more than 50 percent have full-blown cataracts. There are other risk factors for cataracts, including diabetes, high blood sugar levels, overexposure to sunlight, poor nutrition (e.g., vitamin B and protein deficiencies), alcohol and cigarette use, trauma, and exposure to environmental toxins.
How do you screen for cataracts?
If there have been changes in your vision, we will first rule out a refractive error. Increased nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism may account for blurry vision, in which case corrective lenses or refractive surgery will correct the problem.
If a refractive error is not responsible for your vision problems, then we will conduct a slit lamp exam during which the eye is examined under high magnification. The anterior structures of the eye can be seen during a slit lamp exam. The “slit” is the line of light from the microscope which enables us to see even the smallest abnormalities in your lens and adjacent structures.
In addition, a retinal exam will enable us to see the interior structures of the eyes. After dilating your pupils with eyedrops, we can check for additional signs of cataracts and determine the density of the cloudy layer if one is present. A retinal exam will also enable us to search for other eye disorders such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
What is the treatment for cataracts?
The only treatment for cataracts is surgery. Cataract surgery is highly-effective in restoring vision and is the most commonly performed surgery in the United States. Nine out of ten cataract patients end up with 20/20 to 20/40 vision following surgery.
During the cataract surgery procedure, a microscopic incision is made in the eye to allow access to the clouded lens. The lens will be removed either intact or after it has been somewhat dissolved through ultrasound or laser treatment. It is then replaced with a clear acrylic intraocular lens (IOL) that functions like a natural lens—sometimes providing even better vision than before the cataracts appeared.
The most common type of lens used with cataract surgery is called a monofocal IOL. It has one focusing distance. It is set to focus for up close, medium range or distance vision. With single-vision IOLs, you may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses following surgery.
Multifocal and accommodating intraocular lenses are designed to provide focus of both distance and near objects providing you with independence from corrective lenses.
Cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. Patients are administered either local or topical anesthesia and are given the option of mild sedation. The procedure itself is painless; any postoperative discomfort can be alleviated with over-the-counter analgesics.
How can I prevent cataracts?
While there is no guarantee that you will not develop cataracts, there are things you can do to help to decrease your chances. Since sunlight exposure is a risk factor, wear a wide-brimmed hat or sunglasses that provide protection from harmful UV rays. If you drink alcohol or smoke, curb your use, or better still, develop a plan with your doctor to quit. Finally, have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least every one to two years in order to detect and monitor cataract development.
Contact Cape Fear Eye Associates for Cataracts Screening and Treatment
If you have cataracts, early detection and treatment will improve the chances of preserving your vision. Impaired vision or blindness can result if cataracts are left untreated. In the Fayetteville areas of North Carolina, we provide innovative cataract treatment, helping our patients to see clearly again. To arrange a comprehensive eye exam with one of our ophthalmologists, contact Cape Fear Eye Associates today.