Cataracts: How Getting Older Affects Your Eyes by Jordan Stanley, M.D.

February 19, 2020

Jordan Stanley, 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 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 and light cannot focus sharply as it did previously. The now cloudy lens is called a cataract. Instead of viewing the world through the clear lens of 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.

There are a number of other eye conditions that become more common with age, including glaucoma and macular degeneration. Be sure to talk with your eye doctor regarding your specific cause of visual change, as treatments will vary based upon the underlying condition.

How Many People Get Cataracts?

Over 24.4 million Americans ages 40 and older have cataracts. By age 75, half of all Americans experience vision quality deterioration due to cataracts. By age 80, all people either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery, as this process of cataract formation is a natural part of the aging process.

How Do I Know If I Have Cataracts?

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

  • Clouding or blurring of your vision
  • Seeing double or “ghosting” of images
  • Having trouble seeing well at night
  • Needing more light when you read
  • Seeing halos or “starbursts” around lights (especially oncoming headlights during night driving)
  • Seeing bright colors as faded or yellow
  • Frequent changes in prescriptions for eyeglasses

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?

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
  • 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. Routine preventative eye examinations are key to early detection and avoidance of vision loss.

How are Cataracts Treated?

If your cataract symptoms are not interfering with your daily activities, observation is recommended. An adjustment in your glasses prescription can often minimize visual disturbances early in cataract progression. However, as cataracts progress, glasses prescription changes will not be able to provide the quality of vision needed, as light must still pass through the now cloudy lens in your eye. 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 is through cataract surgery. Your natural lens, now cloudy, is removed and replaced with the latest intraocular lens (IOL) 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 safest operations performed in the United States. Additionally, there have been many amazing and helpful advances in surgical and lens technology recently which have continued to advance the safety, comfort, and life-changing outcomes related to cataract treatment through surgery.

More About Cataract Specialist Jordan Stanley, M.D.

Dr. Stanley is an ophthalmologist with the Marietta Eye Clinic who offers comprehensive care and specializes in cataracts and glaucoma. He serves the Kennestone, West Cobb, and Acworth locations. He received his undergraduate degree in biology from Harding University and his medical degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He is a member of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, the American Glaucoma Society, and the American Academy 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 (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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