Los Alamitos, CA (June 2012) – More than 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts. For them, just reading about this eye condition may be difficult because cataracts can cause vision to become blurry, cloudy or dim – like looking through a frosted glass or fogged up window.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that can develop in one or both eyes. It is a condition that progresses slowly and is normally associated with advancing age. Other factors that may contribute to the development of cataracts include diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, previous eye surgery, high blood pressure, eye injury, obesity, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight and long-term use of corticosteroids.
People with cataracts many times have double vision or poor night vision and start to notice that colors appear faded or have a brown tint. They may also see a halo around objects or a glare around lights.
There are four basic types of cataracts. Nuclear cataracts affect the center of the lens, eventually turning it yellow and clouding vision. Cortical cataracts affect the edges of the lens, causing whitish streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. Posterior subcapsular cataracts start as an opaque area near the back of the lens. Congenital cataracts develop during childhood due to the mother having contracted an infection during pregnancy or certain inherited syndromes.
To determine the presence of cataracts, a visual acuity test may be done using an eye chart to measure how well the patient can read a series of letters. The eye will be examined during a slit-lamp test to check the cornea, iris, lens and the space between the iris and cornea. A retinal exam, which involves dilating the pupils, will allow the doctor to more clearly see the back of the eye.
Treatment for cataracts can start with eyeglasses, which may help temporarily in mild cases of cataracts. There are no eye drops that can dissolve cataracts. Once the condition begins to interfere with daily activities or affect quality of life, surgery is the only way to remove cataracts.
Cataract surgery involves removing the lens in the eye and in most cases replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL, which is made of plastic, silicone or acrylic, does not require care and cannot be seen or felt.
There are two types of cataract surgery. Phacoemulsification requires making a small incision on the side of the cornea, inserting a probe that emits ultrasound waves to break up the lens and removing the lens by suction. For extracapsular surgery, a longer incision is made on the side of the cornea and the cloudy core of the lens is removed in one piece.
Cataract surgery usually takes less than an hour and is performed on an outpatient basis. Eye drops will be prescribed following surgery to promote healing. If there are cataracts in both eyes, surgery will be done on one eye at a time about four to eight weeks apart. Cataract surgery is performed at Los Alamitos Medical Center and patients go through the Same Day Surgery department.
For more information about cataracts, talk with your doctor or call 800-548-5559 for a free referral to an ophthalmologist near you.