Cataracts and the Effects of Aging on Your Eyes by Amy Cherof, M.D.

March 12, 2020

Dr. Cherof is an ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic.

Unfortunately, the development of cataract cannot be prevented or reversed. The good news is that you do not have to accept the deterioration of the quality of your vision. Each of us has a natural lens in our eye that bends, or refracts, light rays, allowing us to see clearly. When we are young, the lens is clear and allows light to pass through unhindered. As we age, the lens becomes cloudy, which is called a cataract. Instead of viewing the world through the clear lens of our youth, we see the world as if we are looking through a dusty windshield. As you develop cataracts, your vision will become increasingly blurry, hazy, or less colorful.

How Many People Get Cataracts?

Over 24.4 million Americans over age 40 have cataracts. By age 75, half of all Americans experience cataracts, with most causing vision quality deterioration. By age 80, most people either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. Cataracts happen to almost everyone, and they predominantly appear with advancing age.

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Cataracts are progressive, and frequently patients do not notice the slow deterioration in the clarity and vibrancy of their vision. You may start to notice the following vision changes if you have a cataract:

  • Your vision appears clouded or blurry
  • You experience more sensitivity to light
  • You have trouble seeing at night
  • You see halos around lights (glare)
  • You see faded or yellowed colors instead of bright colors
  • You have to change the prescription for your glasses often
  • You notice a doubling or shadowing of images

These symptoms can be a sign of other eye problems as well, so be sure to talk to your ophthalmologist if you notice any of these symptoms.

What Causes Cataracts?

Around the age of 40, age-related changes begin in your eyes. In particular, cataracts are caused by the oxidation and breakdown of proteins in the lens. By age 60, most people will have some degree of cataract. However, there are other risk factors for cataracts.

The following are some of the most common risk factors apart from aging:

  • Having family members who have or had cataracts at an early age
  • Having diabetes
  • Having had an eye injury, eye surgery, or radiation treatments on your upper body
  • Spending significant time in the sun, especially without sunglasses that protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Taking certain medications such as corticosteroids, which may cause early formation of cataracts

Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Cataracts brought on by other risk factors, however, can progress more quickly.

How are Cataracts Treated?

If your cataract symptoms are not bothersome, you don’t need to have surgery yet. Early in the progression, your eye doctor will likely suggest monitoring the cataract, and you may be able to counteract symptoms by having your glasses prescription updated. However, as cataracts progress, prescription changes will eventually not provide sufficient relief from symptoms. When cataracts prevent you from doing the things in life you need or want to do, you should discuss your surgical options with your ophthalmologist.

The only way to remove a cataract is through cataract surgery. Your clouded natural lens (the cataract) will be removed and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). Your surgeon will review with you the lens options available. Several types of lenses are available to help your surgeon customize the surgical outcome to meet your personal visual needs and preferences. Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed and safest operations in the United States. Additionally, there have been many advances in surgical and lens technology in the recent past which have continued to advance the safety, comfort, and life-changing outcomes related to cataract treatment through surgery.

More About Cataract Specialist Amy Cherof, M.D.

Dr. Cherof is an ophthalmologist with the Marietta Eye Clinic who specializes in cataracts in addition to offering comprehensive care. She serves the Kennestone, West Cobb, and Windy Hill locations. Dr. Cherof graduated summa cum laude with highest honors with her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia. She received her medical degree from the Augusta University Medical College of Georgia. She is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology. Read her full bio here.

References and Additional Resources

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry (O.D.), optometric professionals, and optometry students.

Eye Health Statistics

https://www.aao.org/newsroom/eye-health-statistics

What Are Cataracts?

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts

At a glance: Cataracts

https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/cataracts

Cataracts

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790

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