What Causes Cataracts and How Are They Treated?
Affecting over 24.4 million Americans, cataracts are one of the most prevalent vision problems in the world. In fact, over half of people age 75 and older have some form of cataracts.
With statistics like these, you’re probably wondering “What are cataracts?” and “How can I avoid them?”
No one wants to lose their clear vision. The good news is that by knowing what causes cataracts, you can prevent them before they happen.
If you’re starting to experience cloudy vision or other symptoms of cataracts, keep reading. We’ll cover what cataracts are, what you can do to prevent them, and your options for treatment for cataracts once they occur.
What Are Cataracts?
Cataracts are dense protein clumps that build up on your ocular lens.
Your lens is supposed to be clear to let light reach your retina, which carries images to your brain, allowing you to see. When you have cataracts, proteins collect on the lens, forming a cloudy area. This prevents a clear picture from reaching your brain, so you have blurry vision.
Blurry vision is one of the most common vision problems. It might not always mean you have cataracts, but you should always see your eye doctor about it.
Symptoms of Cataracts
The protein clump that builds up on your ocular lens causes a wide variety of cataract symptoms, including:
- Blurred vision (the most common symptom)
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Colors appearing less intense or faded
- Double vision in one eye
- Eyeglasses no longer working, or needing to frequently change your glasses prescription
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Blurry appearance or “halo” around lights
Cataracts often only affect one eye at a time, so you may experience the symptoms of cataracts only in the affected eye.
Types of Cataracts
Cataracts are classified according to what causes them.
- Age-related cataracts: occur as a result of the normal aging process
- Secondary cataracts: develop due to another disease, such as diabetes
- Radiation cataracts: develop as a result of exposure to radiation therapy
- Traumatic cataracts: happen because of an eye injury, even if the injury occurred years before
- Congenital cataracts: are already present when a baby is born
You can also classify cataracts according to where they form in the eye. Nuclear cataracts, the most common kind, form at the center of your lens. You might also experience posterior capsule cataracts, which develop fastest and occur behind the lens.
Causes of Cataracts
The protein buildup that causes cataracts can be caused by a range of factors, such as:
- Heavy smoking
- Type 2 Diabetes (especially with high blood sugars)
- Eye injuries
- Prolonged use of certain medications (including steroids and some cardiac medications)
- Exposure to radiation (including ultraviolet radiation and radiation therapy)
- Exposure to oxidants and free radicals
In many people, cataracts occur due to the normal wear and tear of everyday life. This is why cataracts are more common in older people.
Risk Factors For Cataracts
Research shows that age is the most common risk factor for cataracts. However, you might be at higher risk for developing cataracts as you age if:
- Other people in your family have them
- You have high blood sugars or uncontrolled diabetes
- You are overweight
- You smoke
- You have high blood pressure
- Your eyes experience a lot of sun exposure without sun-protective eyewear
- You drink alcohol heavily
Even if you don’t have any risk factors, you can still develop cataracts. That’s why it’s important to get frequent comprehensive eye exams to check up on your eye health.
Treatment For Cataracts
You can manage early-stage cataracts with good-quality glasses or contact lenses. That’s why it’s helpful to catch cataracts as soon as possible. By managing cataracts with non-surgical interventions and removing risk factors, you can maintain your eyesight without surgery.
At a certain point, however, you will need cataract surgery to correct your vision.
Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a new, artificial one. Your eye can use the artificial lens to see just like the old one.
This procedure is fast and is usually performed as a day (outpatient) surgery. It usually has a short recovery time and low complication risk.
There are two main types of cataract surgeries:
- Phacoemulsification: an advanced form of cataract surgery that uses two small incisions to remove the old lens and insert a new one
- Extracapsular cataract extraction: requires a larger incision to remove the lens, and is only performed when your cataracts are at a more advanced stage
You might be wondering, “Can I take medications for cataracts?” While there are some cataract medications available, they are mostly in the research stage. Cataract surgery is the quickest, easiest, and most complete treatment for cataracts.
Prevention of Cataracts
You can’t prevent getting older, but that doesn’t mean cataracts are inevitable. You can take lots of steps to maximize your eye health and prevent cataracts, including:
- Eat a healthy diet, including lots of vitamins for eye health
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Reduce or quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods
- If you have diabetes or other chronic health conditions, keep them under control
- Maintain a good eye care routine
- Wear good quality sunglasses to avoid harmful sun exposure
Even if you’re doing everything you can to prevent cataracts, make time for an annual vision check-up. This allows you to catch any vision problems before they progress.
The Best Cataract Care For You
Now that you’ve learned what causes cataracts, you know that prevention is key to avoiding this common eye disease. Good nutrition, avoiding risk factors, and regular eye exams are among the most important factors to keeping your vision clear for your whole life.
When it comes to your eye care, only trust the best. Cedar Park Vision offers preventative eye care, comprehensive exams, and treatment for cataracts to make sure your eyes stay the best that they can be. Contact us today to set up your local eye care appointment.