Eyes on Health: Cataracts

As eye doctors, when we first explain to a patient that they have cataracts, the initial reaction is usually a mixture of fear and confusion. “Me? Cataracts?? What does that mean? Am I going to go blind??”

By definition, a cataract is an opacity, or a clouding, of the lens that sits inside of your eye, right behind your iris (the structure of your eye that dictates what color eyes you have.) Normally, when you are young and healthy, the lens is clear and allows light to pass into the eye to reach the back of your eye which then sends signals to your brain that we perceive as “sight.” When a cataract forms, that lens is no longer transparent as it once was and causes decreased vision.

Image courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Image courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Cataracts are most commonly caused by aging. This means, if we all are lucky to live long enough, we will all most likely develop some form of a cataract in our lifetime. However, cataracts can also occur secondary to traumatic episodes, hereditary factors, inflammation, medication, and/or nutritional/metabolic disorders. For instance, some babies are born with congenital cataracts, others develop cataracts from their medications or other systemic diseases, and still others can develop a cataract after an eye injury. But all in all, age-related cataracts are the most prevalent. There are different types of cataracts depending on their etiology, but ultimately cause very similar symptoms.

How do I know if I have a cataract??

The most common visual symptom of a cataract is blurry, decreased vision. Some patients will notice the blur despite wearing their prescription glasses/contacts. Cataracts also decrease contrast sensitivity which adds to additional visual impairment and can cause discomfort driving at night. Glare is another common symptom of cataracts, because the cataract will cause light that hits the lens opacities to reflect and scatter, creating streaks and starbursts (see the above graphic).

As optometrists, we check for cataracts and lens opacities during every annual eye exam. Upon detection and diagnosis of a cataract, we will grade the severity of a cataract in conjunction with a variety of other factors to determine the next steps of treatment. The patient’s perceived quality of life and level of visual impairment is also very important when it comes to determining cataract treatment because not every incidence of cataracts requires immediate surgical intervention. Sometimes, just an updated prescription and lighting changes can improve the quality of vision for patients. Cataract extraction surgery is not advised until the vision has been compromised to such a degree that quality of life is affected or hindered.

When cataract surgery IS necessary, we will walk you through an overview of the entire process and refer you to an excellent, well-trusted cataract surgeon. We also tend to your pre- and post-operative care, checking in with you a few weeks after surgery to guide your recovery and also make sure you are seeing your very best.

Hearing that you have cataracts from an eye doctor can be a very daunting experience, but here at Cornerstone, we will never let you go through it alone, feeling lost or unprepared. Ultimately, the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts is a life-changing experience for our patients and can quickly return them to enjoying life seeing things clearly again!

As always, we’re here for you with any questions or concerns!

-Dr. Rebecca

Rebecca Landolfi