Cataracts affect a large portion of the world’s aging population. By the age of 80, over 50 percent of Americans will be affected by the condition. This condition is one of the top causes of blindness in low- and middle-income countries. With today’s advances in medical technology, cataracts are a preventable cause of blindness. Dr. Maninderpal Mand examines the causes, symptoms, and treatment of cataracts, offering solutions for those who suffer from the condition.
Causes of Cataracts
Cataracts are generally caused by advancing age. They can happen as early as 40 to 50 years of age, but they are generally not damaging to the eyesight until later in life. Cataracts are caused when protein clumps in the eye cloud the lens. These clumps grow slowly, meaning that the condition advances gradually.
Diabetes is a major co-occurring factor in the incidence of cataracts. Smoking and alcohol use can also lead to cataracts, as can excessive exposure to the UV rays in sunlight.
Symptoms of Cataracts
The purpose of the lens in the eye is to catch and bend light rays from the environment. Since cataracts blur the lens, they lead to reduced vision. When protein clumps in the eye, blurry spots can appear in a person’s field of vision. As a person’s age advances, the protein clumps grow. This causes a complete blurring of a person’s vision. A person’s color vision will also be affected. Their vision may take on a yellow or brown tint over time, making it difficult to distinguish colors from each other.
Cataracts cause the eye to become very sensitive to glare. Any concentrated light may become too bright, and a halo may appear around it. Night vision is also affected, making it difficult for people affected with cataracts to drive. Many people with smaller cataracts may experience double vision, though this effect can go away as the cataract grows in the eye.
When the cataract has grown to the point where a person has serious difficulties with their vision, doctors like Maninderpal Mand will often perform surgery. In cataract surgery, the intraocular lens (IOL) is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
Before surgery, the ophthalmologist will perform measurements on the eye to judge the size, shape, and focusing ability of the artificial lens. This careful matching means that a person will be able to see as well as they did before being affected with the cataract.
Most patients are awake for cataract surgery. The patient will see lights and movement but will not be able to see what the ophthalmologist is doing to their eye. The eye will be numbed, and the patient may receive a sedative to help them relax.
The eye surgeon will make small cuts on the cornea to access the lens. This can be done with a blade or with a laser. Using tiny instruments, the doctor will physically break up the lens and remove it from the cornea. This part of the procedure can also be performed with ultrasound. The artificial lens is then inserted in the cornea.
Recovery from cataract surgery is less of a problem than it may seem. Patients will need to use eye drops to lubricate the eye and reduce the chance of infection. Within a few days or weeks, most patients will be able to return to normal activity. They may not need glasses anymore, or they may need a change in prescription.
Cataract surgery does carry several risks. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection and swelling. Serious complications include damage to other parts of the eye and a detached retina. These risks are small when compared to other types of surgery. Over 90 percent of people who receive cataract surgery have better vision following the procedure.
After cataract surgery, it is possible that the vision may become cloudy again. This is called a “secondary cataract.” This happens when the posterior capsule in the eye becomes cloudy. This condition can be treated with laser eye surgery.
Prevention of Cataracts
While most cataracts may not be able to be prevented, there are many lifestyle choices which could affect their growth. Stop smoking and alcohol use. If you have diabetes, make sure it is well under control using a combination of diet and medications. Dr. Maninderpal Mand encourages patients to do everything they can to preserve their vision.