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Cataracts: How Getting Older Affects Your Eyes by Denise Johnson, M.D.

February 19, 2020

Denise Johnson, 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 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 60, all Americans have cataracts and most have some deterioration in the quality of their vision. By age 80, most people have had cataract surgery.

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts – How Do I Know If I Have 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, this sometimes goes away as the cataract gets bigger)
  • Being extra sensitive to light
  • Having trouble seeing well at night
  • Needing more light when you read
  • You see a halo around lights
  • Lamps, sunlight, or headlights seem too bright
  • Seeing bright colors as faded or yellow
  • 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 vision loss.

Why Do People Get Cataracts? What Causes Cataract?

Growing older is the most common cause of 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 start to have at least some level of clouding of the lenses due to this protein breakdown. There are other reasons we experience 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 medical community. 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 Denise Johnson, M.D.

Dr. Johnson is an ophthalmologist at the Marietta Eye Clinic who offers comprehensive care and specializes in cataracts, dry eye, and cosmetic treatments. She serves the Acworth and Towne Lake locations. She is board-certified by both the American Board of Ophthalmology and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. She received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and her medical degree from the Temple University School of Medicine. She is professionally associated with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataracts and Refractive Surgeons, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. 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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