By Dr. Zachary Steele
Since June is cataract awareness month, I thought I would talk a little today about the most common thing we see in patients over the age of 60. We are often asked questions daily about cataracts, more often than not by baby-boomers. Usually the question is “will I get cataracts?” The answer is yes, we all do eventually. Cataracts are the most common eye disorder in North America. About 50 percent of people between 55 and 64 years of age, and 85 percent of people over 75 years of age, will have cataracts within a 10-year period.
An opaqueness that develops in the lens of the eye, a cataract interferes with clear vision, affecting a person’s quality of life and even safety. Cataracts are usually diagnosed by an optometrist and can vary from extremely small areas of cloudiness to large opaque areas that cause a noticeable loss of vision.
Experts are unsure as to the exact causes of cataracts. It is known that a chemical change occurs within the eye that causes the lens to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury or a disease. Excessive exposure to UV radition present in sunlight or the use of certain medications are also risk factors for the development of cataracts. As I mentioned earlier, cataracts are most often found in persons over the age of 55, but they are also occassionally found in younger people, including newborns.
Cataracts typically develop without pain or redness. Symptoms begin as patients notice a blurred or hazy vision, the appearance of spots in front of the eyes, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes. A temporary improvement in near vision, the so-called “second sight” may also occur as well as increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night may be experienced. Cataracts may develop slowly over many years or they may form rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to the point that they need to be removed.
Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming. A recent study showed that even multi-vitamins had little or no effect on their development. Since UV light is a contributing factor we always recommended that patients’ glasses and sunglassses are treated to block out the UV radiation.
When cataracts first start to develop, modification in a patient’s prescription to compensate for subtle vision changes. But when the cataracts develop to a point that a person’s daily activities are adversely affected, I usually recommend cataract surgery, one of the safest surgical procedures performed today. Usually the actual surgery takes around 10 minutes, and the patient gets to go home the same day.
The techniques for cataract surgery involve very small incisions, about 1/4 of an inch, so small that stitches are not required. This “no-stitch” surgery also means a much faster recovery, with vision returning to normal within a matter of days, as opposed to weeks or months as was the case several years ago. So cataract surgery today is not really something to dread, rather something to look forward to.
If you have any questions about cataracts, or any other vision-related topics, feel free to call our office at 655-4838.