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With age comes wisdom … and with age comes cataracts! The good news is that you do not have to accept the reduced quality of vision often associated with cataracts! There are many options that we have to improve your vision, but in this article we are going to focus our discussion on the development of visually significant cataracts with age.
When you are born, your eye’s natural lens is clear. When the lens is clear, light passes through and refracts, or bends light, unhindered, enabling you to see clearly. As you age, the lens becomes cloudy from the natural breakdown of proteins within the once clear lens over time. This clouding is what is referred to as cataract. When cataract is present, your vision appears as if you’re looking through the tinted, dusty windshield of a car. Your sight will become increasingly blurry, hazy, or less colorful over time.
Over 24.4 million Americans ages 40 and older have cataracts. By age 60, all Americans have cataracts and most experience some deterioration in the quality of their vision. By age 80, an overwhelming majority of people have had cataract surgery. Cataract is the most common cause of vision loss – not surprisingly, cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States.
Patients often do not even notice the deterioration in the quality and vibrancy of their vision because most cataracts gradually progress over time. However, you may have cataracts if you notice any of the following changes in your vision:
These symptoms can be signs of other eye problems, too, so it’s important to get a comprehensive eye exam with your eye care provider. Your eye doctor can check the impact to your eyes and signs of a variety of eye diseases. If your symptoms are related to cataract, your doctor will probably want to monitor your eyes and may suggest cataract surgery when the symptoms begin to have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Aging is the most common cause of cataracts. Normal eye changes start around age 40. These changes include proteins in the lens beginning to break down. The breaking down of proteins over time cause clouded lenses. However, there are other risk factors associated with cataracts that may bring them on early or speed up their progression.
Those risk factors may include:
Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Cataracts not caused by the natural aging process can develop more quickly, such as those in younger people who experience direct eye trauma or those in people with diabetes. Your doctor cannot predict how quickly your cataracts will develop – it is something that needs to be observed over time. Vigilance and routine preventative eye examinations are key to treating vision loss.
Early in the progression of cataracts, changing your prescription for glasses or contacts can help enhance your vision. However, as cataracts progress, prescription changes will eventually not provide much, if any, improvement in vision. When cataracts keep you from living your fullest life, if you do not enjoy the activities you normally enjoy due to decreased vision, you should discuss surgical options with your ophthalmologist.
The only way to remove a cataract completely is through cataract surgery. Your clouded natural lenses are removed and replaced with artificial intraocular lenses (IOLs). With a comprehensive cataract consultation, your cataract surgeon can discuss all of the lens options available to you to customize your surgery plan to your individual eyes and lifestyle. Best of all, cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed operations in the United States.
To see your very best, please always remember to go for your annual eye exams with your eye care provider and ask about the presence of or evolution of your cataracts. If ever in doubt, it never hurts to have a cataract consultation with an ophthalmologist to gain insight into your eyes and help retain your best vision.
Dr. Panda is an ophthalmologist at the Marietta Eye Clinic who specializes in dry eye, cataracts, LASIK, and cornea, in addition to offering comprehensive ophthalmic care. He serves the Kennestone, West Cobb, and Paulding offices. Dr. Panda graduated from Cornell University with an undergraduate degree in biological and environmental engineering. He received his medical degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed his residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He completed his fellowship in Cornea and Refractive Surgery from the prestigious Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of both the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons. Read more about Dr. Panda here.
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
What Are Cataracts?
At a glance: Cataracts
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