Cataract on eye

Photo by Rakesh Ahuja, MD, Wikimedia Commons

The diagnosis of cataracts can be a jarring experience. Immediately, people fear they are beginning to go blind, or will need surgery within a week. Fortunately, these fears are largely false. With proper management, you and your eye care provider can plan for your cataracts and give you the tools to handle your changing eyes.

There are actually many different types of cataracts caused by anything from drug side effects to trauma. However, the most common is the age-related cataract. Age-related cataracts are simply changes in the crystalline lens inside the eye, which sits directly behind the pupil and is typically clear at birth. As we age, the clarity of the lens changes and it takes on a yellowish appearance, and its surface may become grainy or cloudy. When this occurs, your vision will begin to change in a few different ways.

First, you may notice an increase in the amount of glare from headlights and bright ambient lighting. Cataracts cause light to scatter as it passes through the lens in the eye, which leads to this increase in glare. This change may be subtle at first, but typically becomes increasing bothersome the longer the cataract develops. To combat this, it may be recommended that you invest in a quality anti-glare coating for your glasses and use sunglasses. The glare coating will not stop the glare, but it will reduce the additional glare you might get from your glasses, which can worsen the problem. Wearing sunglasses will reduce the intensity of the light during daytime hours, reducing the glare problem with ambient lighting.

Second, you may need more light when you are reading. This problem is not as common when on a computer (but glare may be). If you are reading a book, magazine, or newspaper you may notice that you cannot get the light bright enough to see it properly. Using a bright floor lamp directed over the shoulder to illuminate material from directly above can help reduce this symptom.

Finally, you may feel that you are looking through a cloud or haze. This will dull colors and make it seem like your eyes have a film on them that you cannot remove. This symptom many times occurs shortly before surgery is needed. Cataract surgery is a commonly performed procedure done on an outpatient basis. It generally is done on one eye at a time separated by a week or so, and recovery is typically very quick. Many achieve perfect distance vision within days of the procedure!

Cataracts will happen to every one of us. Talking with your eye care provider about cataracts, the causes, and your concerns can help you develop a plan to take early action to reduce symptoms or modify behaviors to possibly delay early onset cataracts. If surgery is indicated, your doctor will guide through the process and help ensure that it is as successful as possible.