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Cataracts: How Getting Older Affects Your Eyes by Shunai Jiang, M.D.

February 19, 2020

Shunai Jiang, 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 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.

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
  • 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
  • Seeing double in the affected eye (when you see two images instead of one, this sometimes goes away as the cataract gets worse)

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. Beside aging, there are many other factors that can increase the risk of developing a cataract:

  • Having a family history of cataracts at a young age
  • Having certain medical problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, radiation treatments on your upper body, or exposure to toxic substances
  • Having had an eye injury, surgery, inflammation, or infection
  • 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
  • Drinking too much alcohol

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 Shunai Jiang, M.D.

Shunai Jiang, M.D. is an ophthalmologist at the Marietta Eye Clinic who specializes in cataracts and glaucoma. She serves the Kennestone, Canton, and East Cobb locations. Dr. Jiang studied at Jilin University in China and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the home of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She received her residency training in ophthalmology from the University of Louisville and fellowship training in glaucoma from Emory University. She is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Glaucoma Society. 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, 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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