What are Cataracts?

Behind the iris of the eye sits a clear lens. This lens acts to focus light on the back of the eye (the retina) so that near and distant objects are perceived clearly and sharply. When the clear lens becomes cloudy and opaque, this is called a cataract. Cataracts can form to different degrees of severity ranging from small areas of cloudiness to large, opaque and blurred areas of vision.


What causes Cataracts?

Cataracts are often related to the aging process and typically show up in people over the age of 60. However, they are occasionally found in younger people and even newborns. Cataracts in newborn babies are referred to as congenital cataracts. Most commonly cataracts are a result of advancing age, genetics, injury or disease. Cigarette smoke, excess exposure to UV rays (found in sunlight) and certain medications are considered primary risk factors. Cataracts develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.

How can Cataracts be prevented?

There is no proven method for preventing cataracts, however there are a couple of things that you can do to reduce your risk. The first is to make use of your sunglasses. Look for shades that block 99-100% UV radiation, including both UVA and UVB rays. Remember that even on overcast days, there are still high intensity UV rays coming through. For more information on the effects of UV rays and how to stay protected, see our blog posting, Sunscreen for your Eyes.

Another way to protect yourself is with an antioxidant rich diet, including foods particularly high in vitamins A, C and E, zinc, selenium and magnesium. While antioxidants don’t necessarily correct damage that has already occurred, they are extremely effective at preventing further damage. Some popular foods high in antioxidants include berries (especially blackberries and blueberries), avocado, nuts, bell peppers, grapes, leafy green vegetables, cacao and green tea.

What are the symptoms of Cataracts?

Cataracts present with hazy or blurred vision. This is a scene as might be seen by a person with cataracts.

Cataracts present with hazy or blurred vision. This is a scene as might be seen by a person with cataracts.

The symptoms of cataracts are vision-related. Patients often notice burred or hazy vision that is not corrected by a change of lens prescription. They may also experience a feeling of a film over the eye that does not go away with blinking. There might be a temporary change in distance and/or near vision and an increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night.  Cataracts do not cause red or painful eyes. They may develop slowly over years, or more rapidly over a matter of months. Some cataracts may never develop to the point of needing surgical intervention. The only way to properly diagnose cataracts is with a comprehensive eye examination.

How are Cataracts treated?

In the earlier development of cataracts, a change of glasses prescription may be enough to offer the sharpest vision possible. When the effects of the cataracts start to interfere with daily activities and can not be corrected with a new lens prescription, the optometrist may offer a referral to an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon).

Cataract surgery is a procedure in which the cloudy lens is removed and replaced by an intraocular lens implant. This new lens may offer enough distance vision correction that full-time wear glasses are no longer needed. However, near vision will still be blurred and will likely require glasses for reading. Your optometrist will co-manage your procedure with an ophthalmologist, offering pre- and post- surgical care. Four to six weeks after surgery your optometrist will provide a new updated lens prescription for your glasses.