Cataracts are very common and affect more than 24 million Americans over age 40*1. By age 75, half of all Americans have cataracts. Cataracts affect the lenses in your eyes. In young, healthy people these lenses are clear, but as we get older the lenses become cloudy – this is called a cataract. Cataracts can also, less commonly, be seen in younger patients due to congenital defects or trauma.
Not all cataracts cause symptoms and so don’t always need treatment. However, cataracts that affect your vision can be easily treated.
What causes cataracts?
Most cataracts are caused by aging. However, congenital cataracts happen at birth – the cause is usually unknown but in some cases, it can be caused by eye injury, other eye conditions, or the baby developing an infection while in the womb.
In adults, risk factors for cataracts include:
- certain medications e.g. steroids
- exposure to the sun – the more exposure you have to the sun’s damaging UV rays, the higher your risk of developing cataracts at a younger age
- eye injury
- other eye diseases
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
Cataracts develop slowly so you may not notice any symptoms at first. As your cataracts get worse, you may experience:
- colors looking faded
- difficulty seeing well at night
- glare when you are in bright surroundings
- hazy or blurred vision
- needing more light to read
- seeing shadows behind objects
- seeing double i.e. seeing 2 objects when there is only one.
How are cataracts treated?
Cataracts can only be treated with surgery. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries in America*2 with over 3 million cataract surgeries performed each year*3.
Cataract surgery is usually performed under local anesthetic and is a day-case surgery, which means you can return home on the same day you have surgery. It takes less than an hour and involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL).
After surgery, it will usually take a few days before you notice improvements in your vision.
Types of intraocular lenses
Your eye doctor will discuss which intraocular lens option is best for your needs and budget. There are 4 main types:
- monofocal lenses – these are the most common lenses used in cataract surgery and restore good far vision but you will need to wear glasses for near vision
- multifocal lenses – these lenses restore good near and far vision so you may not need to wear glasses often or at all, however side effects include:
- reduced ability to see contrast, especially in low-light conditions
- halos and glare around lights at night
- accommodative lenses – these lenses are more similar to your natural lenses as they change shape to allow you to focus at different distances
- toric lenses – these lenses are used for people with astigmatism and correct this visual distortion.
*1 American Academy of Ophthalmology
*2 Johns Hopkins Medicine
*3 Ophthalmology Times