Cataracts: Diagnosis, Management and Treatment FAQs
Did you know that over 50 percent of people over 60 can get cataracts? Cataracts can cause vision loss or even blindness amongst the elderly. Although cataracts are largely associated with aging, they can affect younger people too.
Cataracts can make everyday life very difficult even with the mildest cases. Even simple activities like reading, driving and watching television can become challenging and problematic.
The good news is that cataracts are treatable. If you, a family member or friend has been diagnosed with cataracts, then there is hope for better vision again. Find out more about how cataracts can be managed and the different treatment options available, including cataract surgery.
I’ve been told I have cataracts. What are they?
Your eye doctor will have found a clouding of the natural lens found inside the eye. This clouding is currently blocking the amount of light focusing on the retina. As a consequence, your brain can only perceive dull, blurry images.
Cataracts have several categories which are defined by where in the lens they formed. They may have begun at the back of the lens or deep in the center. Some cataracts even begin to form on the outskirts of the lens and grow inward. Regardless of where your cataracts originate, blurred vision always occurs eventually as a result.
Why have I developed cataracts?
Cataracts are often caused by the natural aging processes.
When we are young, we typically have healthy lenses that are both clear and flexible. Once we reach our 40s or 50s, these lenses continue to stiffen. Perhaps you’ve begun to need reading glasses around this time or noticed a deterioration in your vision. Your lenses will also turn yellowish very gradually and then eventually cloudy.
However, as the lens continues to age, cataracts can continue to get worse to the point where glasses are no longer helping to correct the focus.
While cataracts are usually a normal part of aging, it does not mean you need to tolerate poor vision. See below for more information on how they can be treated.
Sometimes other factors cause cataracts. Subcapsular cataracts, a type that forms at the back of the eye, can be linked to diabetes or to taking steroid medication. Some inherited genetic disorders could increase the risk of cataracts as well.
What symptoms might I expect with cataracts?
Blurred vision is the primary symptom. Many patients describe the feeling as like looking through cloudy glass. There are other symptoms that may or may not occur:
- Halos or glare
You might notice that you cope less well with very bright sunlight or that the glare from oncoming headlights makes driving more difficult.
- Loss of color perception
Colors may lose their vibrancy. Blues are most commonly affected, like “washed out”.
- Loss of depth perception
You may find it more difficult to judge distances.
- Night blindness
Seeing in low light may become more difficult.
- Eye fatigue and headaches
As with many eye conditions, you may begin to get sore, tired eyes and more frequent headaches.
- Monocular double vision
You may experience “ghosting” or “doubling” in one or either eye. Monocular means the condition affects one eye at a time.
You may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms. However, you cannot self-diagnose cataracts. You must have an eye examination so that an eye doctor can correctly diagnose your vision problem.
How are cataracts diagnosed?
At your eye examination, your doctor will use an ophthalmoscope or biomicroscope (slit lamp). You will also be asked to take a visual acuity test. These are frequently used tests where you are asked to read letters that become smaller and smaller. The results of the test will help your doctor determine your level of vision loss. A contrast sensitivity and glare test will also be administered to examine your low-light vision quality in best correction.
How can I cope with cataract symptoms?
There are no non-surgical treatments for cataracts, so patients with mild cataracts usually wear eyeglasses. Progressively stronger prescriptions will be needed as the cataracts worsen. There are no eye drops or other medications that can help.
Eventually, surgery may be needed. This is often considered once glasses no longer suffice.
Tell me about cataract surgery
Cataract surgery improves vision significantly and there should be no more need for you to wear thick eyeglasses. However, your vision may still need a little help from thinner glasses for reading or driving. In addition, your eyes will look less cloudy and will appear normal again.
The surgery is very simple and can be performed under local anesthetic. The procedure is called phacoemulsification. Here’s how it works:
- A tiny incision of around 2 to 3 mm is made on the side of the eye. This incision resembles a staircase rather than a straight line.
- The surgeon accesses the cataract through the incision.
- They will then use high-energy sound waves to break down the cataract.
- The remnants of the cataract are then suctioned out.
- A new artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL) is implanted to replace the damaged lens.
- One or more sutures are sometimes needed, although the stair-stepped incision is usually left to self-seal.
Healing after cataract surgery is usually fast. Many patients can return to normal life in just a day or two, and it is rare for this to take more than a week. You will find that your vision has improved almost immediately after surgery.
Will I need further treatment after surgery?
The intraocular lenses used in cataract surgery do not require further care. You are unlikely to need further treatment. You may still need to wear glasses for reading or driving but on the whole, you will find your vision has improved dramatically.
One occasional side effect is a clouding of the tissue that holds the IOL. Treatment for this is straightforward and painless as laser treatment is used to help clear the visual axis again..
How can I get further information?
This article gives general information about cataract surgery, a treatment that is both straightforward and life-changing.
However, only an eye doctor can identify the very best treatment for your individual case. So, make an appointment to discuss your condition with specialist doctors at an eye center as soon as possible.
Dr. Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center's highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.