WHAT! A CATARACT?

It is always interesting to observe when a patient is surprised that their vision changes are result of a cataract.  Cataracts affect more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older and have been reported to be the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40.  So why the surprise?

Well, first, what is a cataract?  It is a is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens called the intraocular Image result for picture of a cataractlens.  This lens is transparent and biconvex, which along with the cornea, helps to refract (bend) light to be focused on the retina (back of the eye).

The intraocular lens is composed of three layers.  Many anatomists compare it to an onion.  The layers are the capsule, cortex, and nucleus.  A cataract can occur in any of these three layers and are named uniquely based on the cataract location:  nuclear cataract, cortical cataract, and subcapsular cataract.

The reasons or causes of cataracts are interesting and quite extensive.  For example, nuclear cataracts are normally associated with aging changes.  Subcapsular cataracts can often be seen in patients with Diabetes or extensive use of certain medications such as steroids.   Those are only a few examples, but cataracts can be caused by many things such as ultraviolet radiation (sunlight), Diabetes, certain medications, obesity, smoking, trauma, alcohol consumption of duration, and high myopia (farsightedness) to name a few.

While it is understandable to be surprised one might have a cataract, it should not be surprising that options for management exist beyond surgery. Many of our patients achieve incredible vision with a proper spectacle prescription and contrary to popular belief, a cataract needs removal mostly when it interferes with daily activities.

The most important point is to not ignore symptoms that may indicate a cataract, particularly blurry vision, difficulty with night vision, and glare.  Even if surgery is necessary, reports show that some 90% of those are successful in providing better vision following the procedure.  Our office manages many patients that have cataracts of varying intensities and help them understand the options available.  So, while you might be surprised at the diagnosis, you will be satisfied to know that there are ways to improve your vision no matter the manner or method for that improvement.

Brian O’Donnell, M.S., O.D.