Over 24.4 million people over the age of 40 are affected by cataracts, and that number is expected to rise to 50 million by 2050. But with straightforward and highly effective cataract surgery techniques, these patients are able to improve their sight. Learn more about cataract symptoms, cataract surgery, and patient outcomes.
Cataracts are one of the most common age-related eye conditions. Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the most effective and frequently performed procedures in the U.S.
While cataracts typically occur in older adults, younger people can also experience cataracts. You can be born with cataracts or develop them due to disease or injury. They may develop starting in your 40s or 50s and start to affect your vision by the time you reach your 60s. About half of people age 75 or older either have cataracts, or already had surgery to remove them. Without treatment, cataracts can lead to blindness. However, this blindness is often reversible with cataract surgery. After the procedure, most people experience clearer vision.
What are cataracts?
The lens of your eye sits right behind the iris (the colored part of your eye). Normally, the lens is clear. This allows it to focus light onto the retina, the light-sensing tissue of your eye, so that the images you see appear sharp.
Starting around age 40, the proteins in the lens start clumping up, making the lens cloudy. These cloudy areas of the lens are called cataracts. When the lens is cloudy, it scatters or blocks light instead of focusing it onto the retina. So rather than seeing sharp images, your vision becomes blurry.
Most people develop cataracts in both eyes, although one eye may be more affected than the other. If you have cataracts in both eyes, you will need to have separate surgeries to remove them.
Can cataracts be prevented?
For most people, developing cataracts simply comes with age. In other words, getting cataracts is similar to getting wrinkles. Cataracts can also result from eye injury or metabolic issues such as poorly controlled diabetes. Regardless of the mechanism, not all cataracts are immediately visually significant, meaning that it may take time to notice symptoms.
Age-related cataracts cannot be prevented. But certain risk factors can increase the rate at which cataracts become visually significant.
You can help help slow down the progression of age-related cataracts by:
· Not smoking
· Eating a diet rich in antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables
· Protecting your eyes in the sun
· Maintaining a healthy weight and taking other steps to prevent diabetes
· Limiting use of medications, such as steroids, that can lead to cataracts
Understanding cataract symptoms
Cataracts caused by an eye injury or diabetes can sometimes develop quickly and lead to pronounced vision changes. But for most people with age-related cataracts, the changes occur very gradually. You may start to develop cataracts as early as your 40s, but not notice any symptoms until at least a decade or two later. When you start to notice symptoms, that is when the cataract has become “visually significant.”
As the cataracts worsen, you may experience symptoms such as:
· Blurry vision
· Difficulty seeing well at night
· Sensitivity to glare, especially from lights at night
· Seeing a double image
· More frequent changes to your glasses or contact lens prescription
· Bright colors appearing faded or washed out
If you start to notice vision changes, have difficulty seeing well at night or experience other symptoms of cataracts, you should see your eye doctor for an evaluation. Your provider will dilate your eyes and do a comprehensive eye exam, including looking at the lens to determine the location and size of the cataract. They’ll also test your color vision and glare sensitivity.
Mild cataracts may not require any treatment. Even as cataracts worsen, small steps — such as changing your glasses prescription, getting anti-glare coating on your glasses and reading in brighter light — may be enough to help you cope.
When cataracts progress to the point where they affect your ability to do everyday tasks (like reading or driving), you may opt for cataract surgery (phacoemulsification). Cataract surgery is a very safe and effective way to definitively treat cataracts. During cataract surgery, your doctor removes the cataract and replaces it with a small artificial intraocular lens (aka an IOL) that remains in your eye for life. Depending on your lifestyle preferences, there are many different types of IOLs (e.g. monofocal, multifocal) to choose from.
Cataract surgery is a quick and painless outpatient procedure that takes about an hour. Most people have cataract surgery on one eye at a time. You will be able to return home the same day, although you will need someone to drive you home because the anesthesia takes a few hours to wear off. You may experience blurry vision, foreign body sensation, and sensitivity to light for the first day or two after surgery. Even with proper post-operative care, including proper use of antibiotic drops, it can take up to two weeks to heal completely.
Although cataract surgery is extremely safe, any surgery has some risks of bleeding or infection. In some cases, surgical complications such as a dropped lens may require additional follow-up surgeries. Cataract surgery can also slightly increase your risk of retinal detachment. Be sure to follow your eyecare provider’s post-surgery care instructions closely and return for postoperative visits as recommended.
Cataract treatment outcomes
Cataract surgery is a highly effective treatment. About 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery experience clearer vision after recovery. And once cataracts are removed, they won’t grow back, leaving you with better vision for living the life you desire.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
National Eye Institute
The jury is still out on how effective blue light glasses are for eyestrain. One recent study found they made no difference in eyestrain symptoms during a two-hour-long computer task. But some experts feel they may help alleviate eyestrain and fatigue during prolonged, cumulative screen time. Either way, blue glasses alone won’t solve the problem of too much screen time. The best way to reduce eyestrain is to limit screen time and take frequent breaks when you do need to spend several hours at your computer.