Cataracts: The Effects of Aging on Your Eyes by Jeffrey Tran, M.D.

August 7, 2020

Dr. Jeffrey Tran is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic.

Most people begin to show signs of cataract by age 60, but you do not have to accept the deterioration of the quality of your vision often associated with aging.

What are Cataracts?

When you are young, your eye’s natural lens is clear, allowing light to pass through and refract unhindered. As you age, the lens becomes cloudy due to the natural breakdown of proteins that occurs with age. This is referred to as cataract. Instead of viewing the world through the clear lens of youth, you start to see the world as if you’re looking through the 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. It is the most common cause of vision loss.

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Cataracts are progressive. Often, 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 cataracts:

  • Your vision is cloudy or blurry.
  • You see double.
  • You are extra sensitive to light.
  • You have trouble seeing at night.
  • You need more light when you read.
  • You see halos around lights.
  • Lamps, sunlight, or headlights seem too bright.
  • You see bright colors as faded or yellow-tinged instead.
  • The prescription for your glasses changes often.

These symptoms can be signs of other eye problems, too, so it’s important to get a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor can check for damage 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. Over time, cataracts can lead to vision loss.

What Causes Cataracts?

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 causes clouded lenses. However, there are other risk factors associated with cataracts.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having parents, brothers, sisters, or other family members who have cataracts at an early age.
  • Having certain chronic diseases that increase risk of eye disease, 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 offer UV protection.
  • Using certain medications that may cause early formation of cataracts, such as corticosteroids.

Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Cataracts not caused by the natural aging process 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 loss.

How are Cataracts Treated?

Early in the progression of cataracts, changing your prescription for glasses or contacts can help with vision quality. However, as cataracts progress, prescription changes will eventually not provide much, if any, relief from symptoms. When cataracts keep you from doing the things in life you need or want to do, you should discuss surgery 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 intraocular lenses (IOLs). Your surgeon can talk you through all of the lens options available to you and what kind of vision they can give you. Several types of lenses have been invented to help your surgeon customize your visual outcome to fit your lifestyle. Best of all, cataract surgery is one of the safest and most common operations performed in the United States.

More About Cataract Surgeon Jeffrey Tran, M.D.

Dr. Tran is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic. Dr. Tran earned his medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine and completed a residency at Cullen Eye Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American College of Physicians, and the American Medical Association. Read more about Dr. Tran 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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