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Cataracts

What is a Cataract

A cataract is a clouding of the crystalline lens inside the eye.  With a cloudy lens, light cannot pass to the retina properly and vision becomes blurred.  An analogy easily visualized would be looking through a dirty windshield while driving. Although cataracts result from may conditions, the most frequent cause is the natural aging process.  Eye injury, certain eye diseases, some systemic medications, and health problems such as diabetes increase the risk for cataract development. Exposure to sun and smoking also promote cataract development.

What are the Symptoms

In the early stages of development, there may no symptoms associated with cataracts.  As the clear protein of the crystalline lens matures, some of the clarity is lost and cloudy areas form inside the lens.  Depending on the amount of clouding and the location, the patient may not be aware of any loss in vision. Very often, the first signs of cataract are difficulties with night vision that progresses gradually over the years.  As cataracts worsen, there is a subtle loss of contrast so that more light is required for reading and colors mya not seem as vibrant. Frequent changes in glasses prescriptions often occur as the cataract progresses. Occasionally, other symptoms such as halos around lights, starburst effects, double vision, or ghost-like shadows are indicators of cataracts.  Cataracts usually continue to progress but do not have to be remove unless the patient is visually compromised. Eye doctors used to say that the cataract had to be “ripe” before it could be removed, but today the accepted time is when the patient cannot see well enough to the things that they enjoy and an eyeglass prescription change will not help.

How are they Detected?

Cataracts can best be detected through a thorough dilated eye examination.  An evaluation of the visual acuity, intraocular pressure (for risk of glaucoma), and dilated fundus exam (viewing the inside of the eye with lights and special magnifying lenses), along with assessment of pertinent health history are all necessary to properly diagnose vision problems arising from cataracts.  Once the diagnosis is made, one of our optometrists will discuss the effects that cataracts are having on your vision. Other conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and retinal disease must be ruled out to determine if cataracts are the cause of vision loss.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Once cataracts have been diagnosed by one of our optometrists as the cause of vision loss, options will be discussed with the patient.  In early cases, simply changing the glasses prescription may improve vision enough to allow the patient to function well. Once it becomes advanced, cataract surgery is the only treatment and is necessary to remove the cataracts and improve vision.  No medications, eye drops, or exercises have been scientifically proven to reverse the effects of cataracts on vision.

You can help slow the progression of cataract formation by not smoking, eating a well-balanced healthy diet diet, controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and most importantly, by wearing sunglasses.

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