WHAT ARE CATARACTS AND WHAT ARE THE CAUSES?
Cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy or yellowed, eventually impairing vision. Typically they are not noticeable until they begin to interfere with vision, usually in the 60s or later according to the National Institutes of Health. Early onset of cataracts is not typical, but common causes of early cataracts include traumatic injury to the eye, eye disease, diabetes, use of steroidal medications, or a family history of early cataracts. On some occasions, however, there are no clear causes. One newer theory about the onset of early cataracts is that our increasing reliance on smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices may be speeding the development of vision problems at earlier ages.
Patients with diabetes or hypertension are at increased risk of early development of cataracts, particularly if their disease is not well controlled. Those suffering from skin conditions such as eczema also appear to have an increased risk. A history of smoking not only compounds risk of other diseases, including hypertension, but also the development of cataracts.
Among the working, those who work outdoors or in certain environments are also at greater risk of early development of cataracts. Ultraviolet light exposure, particularly exposure to the UV rays of the sun greatly increase cataract risk, thus those working outdoor jobs, pilots, and others with excessive sun exposure during their workdays are at risk and should always use sunglasses that offer broad spectrum UV protection. Glassblowers, welders, and those working around radar, satellites, radio waves, or microwaves also are at increased risk.
SIGNS OF POSSIBLE CATARACT DEVELOPMENT
Among younger cataract patients, the first sign of a problem is typically difficulty seeing clearly at night or hazy vision that is more noticeable in bright light. These patients may have no difficulty during normal levels of light or even when reading a vision chart. Without intervention, the vision difficulties become more and more pronounced, leading to significant vision loss and even blindness.
CORRECTING CATARACTS — CATARACT SURGERY
While older patients may sometimes delay cataract surgery, younger patients who are still working or raising families may benefit from earlier direct intervention, including surgery. Thankfully, cataract surgery is one of the most common corrective eye surgeries performed in the United States. The entire process, from checking in for your surgery, filling out paperwork, preparation, and surgery, may take as little as two hours, with the surgery itself often taking less than 20 minutes.
Cataract surgery involves a small incision in the cornea through which the natural lens is removed and an artificial lens is inserted. The eye is then covered with gauze and a patch. Typically the patient returns the following day for a follow-up examination, during which the gauze and patch are removed. The eye may appear bloodshot with some swelling at first. Eventually these symptoms will resolve, although you may still need to wear a patch at night for some time. Most patients describe the entire process as nearly painless. The vision may fluctuate over the next several weeks, but eventually the vision will stabilize.
After cataract surgery, many patients find that their vision seems to be better than ever in certain situations, particularly when looking at a distance. However, many patients also find that to use near vision, particularly for reading, they may need glasses as artificial lenses are not flexible like the natural lens and thus aren’t able to accommodate both near and far vision.
If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with cataracts, or any other visual disturbances, please call Silverstein Eye Centers today at (816) 358-3600 (Independence/KC) to schedule an examination. For many vision problems, not only cataracts, early intervention is crucial in either slowing or stopping the progress of the disease.