Learn to detect and treat cataract symptons early
It starts slowly. First the instructions on your medication bottle become difficult to read. Then the text at the bottom of your book appears blurry. Soon, you have trouble reading street signs or even recognizing faces.
Vision loss is a common part of the aging process. Preventative efforts and early detection can help mitigate negative side effects and help seniors find the root of the cause. The most common causes of vision loss in older adults are macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, we will address cataracts, an ailment more than 22.3 million Americans — roughly one of every six people ages 40 and older — will face.
“Although getting a cataract is common, it doesn’t have to mean permanent vision loss,” said Hugh Parry, CEO of Prevent Blindness America, the organization that founded the cataract health campaign. “One way to protect our vision is to make a commitment to take care of our eyes today, including getting a dilated eye exam, so we can help protect our sight for the future not just from cataract, but other eye diseases as well.”
Below, we will examine the common symptoms, early detection methods and treatment options for cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute.
What are cataracts?
In a normal eye, light passes through a transparent lens which sends clear images to the brain. In an eye with a cataract, the lens is clouded, which blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye and produces a blurry image. Unlike many eye diseases, vision loss due to cataracts can be restored with surgery.
Who is at risk for cataracts?
The risk of cataract increases as we age. People in their 40s and 50s may have age-related cataracts that are small and do not affect their vision. But by age 60, those cataracts can noticeably worsen a person’s vision. Risk factors for cataracts include:
- Certain diseases such as diabetes
- Smoking and alcohol use
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight
- Inflammation in the eye
- Hereditary influences
- Long-term steroid use
- Eye injuries and other eye diseases
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
At first, the cataract may only affect a small part of the eye’s lens, and you may be unaware of any vision loss. As the cataract grows, it will cloud more of your vision and produce the following symptoms:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Faded colors
- Headlights, lamps or sunlight may appear too bright
- A halo may appear around lights
- Poor night vision
- Double vision or multiple images in one eye
- Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses
- A milky or yellowish spot in the pupil of your eye
How are cataracts detected?
Cataracts are detected through comprehensive eye exams. Eye doctors encourage seniors ages 60 and older to have a complete vision test at least once every two years. The vision test should include:
- Visual acuity test: This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
- Dilated eye exam: Drops are placed in your eyes to widen or dilate the pupils. Your eye doctor uses a special magnifying lens to examine your eye for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
- Tonometry: An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.
What are the different types of cataract surgery?
Cataract removal is one of the most common, effective and safest operations performed in the United States. Approximately 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery experience dramatically improved vision. Consult with your eye doctor for recommended treatment options. There are two main types of cataract surgery:
- Phacoemulsification: A small incision is made on the side of the cornea, the dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. A tiny probe is inserted into the eye, which softens and breaks up the cloudy lens, and the cataract is removed by suction.
- Extracapsular surgery: An incision is made on the side of the cornea and the cloudy lens is removed in one piece. The rest of the cataract is removed by suction. After the natural lens has been removed, it is often replaced by a permanent artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL).
What can I do to protect my vision?
Healthy lifestyle choices and regular eye doctor appointments can help protect your vision. While some cataracts are genetically inherited, eye doctors encourage seniors to:
- Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam from an eye doctor once every two years
- Wear sunglasses or hats that block ultraviolet sunlight
- Stop smoking
- Eat a well-balanced diet with green leafy vegetables, fruit and other foods with antioxidants
Read more senior health and wellness articles from Holiday Retirement.