Does Everyone Get Cataracts Eventually?

In a word, yes – but not necessarily at the same time. While cataracts tend to develop in one eye first, they eventually develop in the other eye as well, usually within a few months or years of the initial onset.

Cataracts are a normal part of the aging process. Most people who get cataracts don’t lose any vision. Surgery removes the cloudy lens and replaces them with a clear artificial lens.

This allows you to see again as clearly as you did before the cataract developed. In most cases, cataract surgery is very successful.

Aging isn’t the only reason a cataract forms. Other causes include trauma, blunt or penetrating ocular traumas, electric shocks, chemical burns, or exposure to ionizing radiation. Traumatic cataracts are also relatively common.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the eyes. In people with diabetes, blood vessels become damaged because of high blood sugar levels. These damage the retina, causing blindness. The aqueous fluid in the eye contains glucose, and this causes the lens to swell up. As a result, the lens becomes cloudy, and this leads to cataracts.

Congenital cataracts are usually caused by genetic factors or prenatal infections. Inflammation of any type in the eye can also cause cataracts.

Cataracts are often associated with some other systemic disorders.

What are Cataracts?

A cataract is when the normally clear lens in an eye gets cloudy. Your eyesight may be affected by a cataract. Dark streaks or shapes may appear in your eyes.

If you’re having trouble reading, driving or doing things around the house, you could be suffering from a cataract. Many people who get cataracts are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Cataracts form because of continuous growth of the natural lens of the eye. That is why cataract is considered to be part of aging.

Risk Factors for Cataracts

The risk of cataracts increases as you age. If you suffer from medical conditions, especially diabetes, smoke or drink too much alcohol, have a family history of cataracts, have had an eye injury, eye surgery or eye infection, have had a radiation treatment, spend a lot of time viewing direct sunlight, take steroids, or have any other problem that may increase your risk of developing cataracts, you should see an eye doctor for a detailed examination.

Cataracts can cause blurred vision and even vision loss. Symptoms of cataracts also include seeing halos around lights and seeing glare with lights. An eye doctor can help determine the severity of your cataracts and diagnose the exact type of cataract you have. They can also discuss preventive measures and treatment options based on the condition of your cataracts.

Am I at Risk for Cataracts?

Cataracts are a common problem among elderly people. Having a family history of them increases your chance of getting them. Smoking, drinking alcohol, having eye injuries, surgeries, or radiation treatments on your upper body increase your chances of developing cataracts. Spending lots of time in the sun increases your chances of getting cataracts.

Steroids can cause cataracts and glaucoma along with other serious side effects including muscle weakness, high blood pressure, liver damage, kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and even cancer. Talk to your doctor before taking them.

Preventive Measures for Cataracts

To prevent or slow down the progression of cataracts, wear protective eye-wear when you are exposed to sunlight. This includes sunglasses and a hat that covers your ears and part of your face. Try to control the risk factors mentioned above which can cause cataracts, especially early in life.

Make sure you have a good eye health routine including having your eyes checked regularly by an eye doctor. Get the eyes checked every one to two years starting at age 40, and more often if you have risk factors for developing cataracts.

Treatment options for cataracts: Once your cataracts are diagnosed, your doctor will determine the best treatment option based on your medical history and condition of your eyes.

Can You Get Cataracts in Both Eyes?

You can get them in both eyes, but one eye may be worse or develop later.

Which eye do you want to have the cataract surgery? That’s a personal decision and only you can decide which eye is worse for you. Ask your doctor which eye he would choose for surgery based on your eye examination and overall health of your eyes.

How Is a Cataract Diagnosed?

A doctor may use an instrument called a slit lamp to examine the eyes in detail.

The doctor will look for the following signs of cataracts:

1. Clouding of the lens. The eye’s clear natural lens helps focus light onto the retina. If the lens is cloudy, light cannot be focused on the retina, causing blurred vision or blindness.

2. Swelling of the lens. As the lens becomes cloudy, it begins to swell. This swelling presses on the iris and may cause secondary glaucoma.

3. Yellowing of the lens. The yellowing of the lens is associated with aging. This condition is because of hardening of the nucleus of the lens and is known as nuclear sclerosis. In this case, the yellowing of the lens is a very early sign that a cataract may develop.

4. Poor visual acuity is a direct result of significant cataract.

As the lens clouding increases, visual acuity will decrease. This is because as the lens clouds, light cannot be focused on the retina. Therefore, a person with cataracts will have blurred vision or even blindness.

Dilating eye drops are instilled into the eyes and back of the eye (fundus) is examined to see the status of optic disc, vessels and retina.

For example, if there is any damage to these areas, a doctor may prescribe treatment for retinal diseases like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, or other problems which can cause vision loss. The doctor will use a special light to illuminate the retina, and if there is any damage to the retina, it can be seen directly.

The eye exam may also include an ultrasound, OCT or various other eye scans.

The earlier a cataract is detected, the more likely it is that it can be treated with good visual outcome, which means a higher chance of recovering full vision.

How Is a Cataract Treated?

Visual compromise due to early cataracts can be managed with corrective glasses and contact lenses. Surgery is recommended to remove the cataracts which cause significant visual loss.

Phacoemulsification is a method of removing cataracts which uses an ultrasonically activated cutting tool to break up and emulsify (“milk”) the cataract into tiny fragments that are flushed away. Phacoemulsification, in many countries, is usually performed as an outpatient procedure under local or topical anesthesia.

After removal of cataract, intraocular lens (IOL) implantation is necessary to restore near and far vision. Intraocular lenses provide a clear image without the need for spectacles or contact lenses.

IOLs come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials and can be made from hard, soft or foldable materials like PMMA, silicone, hydrophilic acrylic, and hydrophobic acrylic.

Discuss with your ophthalmologist about which intraocular lens (IOL) best suits your needs.  There are several types of IOLs available to choose from. Your surgeon will likely recommend the one that is right for you based on your requirements.

In short, the entire cataract surgery procedure usually takes around 20-25 minutes to complete. Once surgery is over, you will be given medication to relieve pain, prevent infection, reduce inflammation and prevent further damage to the eyes.

The most common post-surgical complications after cataract surgery include blurred vision and dry eye.

If your eye surgery is done at a good facility, you can expect to recover within a few days. The results are usually better if the surgery is done early, before age 65.

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