As we grow older, we are more likely to develop cataracts. A cataract is a clouding that appears on the lens of the eye, leading to a loss in vision. Cataracts can vary in size and thus in the effect they have on vision. They can occur at any age, although they most commonly develop in people over the age of 60.
No one is sure what causes cataracts. What is known is that they result from a changing chemical balance in the lens of the eye – the part of the eye that sends light to the retina at the back of the eye. When the lens becomes cloudy, it becomes difficult to see properly. Advancing age, eye injuries, some diseases (e.g., diabetes), certain medications, smoking, and a family history of cataracts are all believed to play a role in the development of this condition.
Cataracts do not spread from one eye to the other – a cataract in one eye will not cause a cataract in the other. Unfortunately, though, cataracts often develop in both eyes at the same time – although they may progress at different rates.
In the early stages, you may not even be aware you have a cataract. Common symptoms include blurriness, spots in the line of vision, a feeling of having a film over your eyes, or a sensitivity to glare. If you experience any of these, or any other changes in vision, contact your eye doctor. He or she can then do special tests to determine the cause of the problem.
If you have cataracts, it may take years before they significantly impede your vision. Until then, your eye specialist will likely continue to change the prescription of your eyewear to help you maximize your vision. At a certain stage, though, further treatment will be needed. The only effective option at that point is to have surgery to remove the cloudy lens and have a new artificial one implanted.
Cataract surgery is done on an outpatient basis (i.e., no stay in the hospital) and eye surgeons consider it a fairly straightforward procedure. During surgery, local anesthetic is used so you will be awake for procedure, although you won’t feel any pain. Afterwards, over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription antibiotic eye drops are usually enough to help you through the recovery period.
As with any operation, cataract surgery carries some risk – but the good news is that the success rate is high: 95% of people enjoy improved vision afterwards. Often, you may still need glasses to read or see objects up close, but your distance vision may be much better on its own. About 4 weeks after surgery, your eye specialist will examine your eyes and give you a new prescription for new glasses – and a new lease on sight!
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