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Cataracts: How Getting Older Affects Your Eyes by Charles Ho, M.D.

February 19, 2020

Charles Ho, M.D. is an ophthalmologist and cataract specialist at the Marietta Eye Clinic.

Does My Vision Have to Worsen as I Age?

The short answer is no, you do not have to accept the deterioration of the quality of your vision often associated with getting a little older. Each of us has a natural lens in our eye whose purpose is to bend, or refract, light rays as they enter our eye to help us see clearly. When we are young, the lens is clear and light passes through unhindered. As we age, the lens becomes cloudy. This is a cataract. Instead of viewing the world through the clear lens of our youth, we see the world as if we are looking through the foggy or dusty windshield of a car. Your vision will become increasingly blurry, hazy, or less colorful with cataract.

How Many People Get Cataracts?

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

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

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

  • Your vision is cloudy or blurry
  • Seeing double (when you see two images instead of one)
  • Being extra sensitive to light
  • Having trouble seeing well at night
  • Needing more light when you read
  • You see a halo around lights (glare)
  • Lamps, sunlight, or headlights seem too bright
  • Seeing bright colors as faded or yellow instead
  • You have to change the prescription for your glasses often

These symptoms can be a sign of other eye problems, too. Be sure to talk to your eye doctor if you have any of these problems. Over time, cataracts can lead to severe but reversible vision loss.

Why Do People Get Cataracts? What Causes Cataract?

Oxidation of lens proteins is the cause of aging cataracts. Normal eye changes start around age 40. These changes include the beginning of the process of proteins in the lens breaking down. The breaking down of the proteins over time is what causes our lenses to become cloudy. Most people over age 60 usually start to have at least some level of clouding of the lenses due to this protein breakdown. There are other reasons besides aging that causes cataracts. Here are some of those reasons:

  • Having parents, brothers, sisters, or other family members who have cataracts at an early age
  • Having certain medical problems, such as diabetes
  • Having had an eye injury, eye surgery, or radiation treatments on your upper body
  • Having spent a lot of time in the sun, especially without sunglasses that protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Using certain medications such as corticosteroids, which may cause early formation of cataracts

Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Other cataracts can develop more quickly, such as those in younger people or those in people with diabetes. Doctors cannot predict how quickly cataracts will develop. Vigilance and routine preventative eye examinations are key to avoiding vision quality loss.

How are Cataracts Treated?

Cataract is a progressive clouding of the lens with increasing vision problems as the cataracts become increasingly dense. If your cataract symptoms are not bothering you very much, you don’t have to remove a cataract. Early in the progression, adjustments such as changing your glasses prescription can help with vision. However, as cataracts progress prescription changes will eventually not provide much or any relief from symptoms. When cataracts keep you from doing the things in life you need or want to do, then you should discuss your surgery options with your ophthalmologist.

The only way to remove a cataract completely is through cataract surgery. Your natural lenses, now cloudy, are removed and replaced with the latest and most advanced intraocular lenses (IOLs) developed by the biomedical companies. Your surgeon will review all of the lens options available to you. Several types of lenses have been invented to help your surgeon customize the surgery outcome to meet your personal visual needs and preferences. The good news is cataract surgery is one of the most common and safe operations performed in the United States. Additionally, there have been many amazing and helpful 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 Charles Ho, M.D.

Dr. Ho is an ophthalmologist with the Marietta Eye Clinic. He specializes in cataract and adult strabismus surgery. During his practice, he has performed thousands of surgeries, developed microsurgery instruments and testing, and taught countless students. He performs surgery at Marietta Eye Surgery, the Northside Hospital, and several WellStar Hospitals. He sees patients at the Kennestone and East Cobb offices. Dr. Ho received his undergraduate degree in computer and electrical engineering from Drexel University and his medical degree at the Hahnemann University School of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology. His board certification is from the American Board of Ophthalmology. Read his 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, 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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