5 Things You Need to Know About Cataracts

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Christian Klein, ophthalmologist with UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester.
Christian Klein, ophthalmologist with UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester.

All of your five senses matter. The deterioration of any of them can greatly decrease quality of life.

When it comes to vision, there are a variety of issues that may present themselves — blurriness, difficulty distinguishing distant and nearby objects, blind spots and fading of colors, among others.

Different eye conditions affect vision in unique ways. Almost 12 million people aged 40 years and older in the United States have vision impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We rely on vision for reading, driving, experiencing the aesthetic wonders of our world and just functioning in our everyday lives,” said Christian Klein, ophthalmologist with UR Medicine’s Flaum Eye Institute in Rochester. “We often take our vision for granted until we start having problems. However, we shouldn’t neglect our eye health because it is strongly tied to our quality of life.”

As we get older, an issue that often comes to the forefront is cataracts.

The risk of cataract increases with each decade of life. Typically, evidence of early cataracts begins in our 50s but this varies among individuals. According to the National Eye Institute, by age 75, half of white Americans have cataracts. By age 80, 70% of whites have cataracts compared with 53% of African Americans and 61% of Hispanic Americans.

Klein answers about five questions about cataracts.

1. What is a cataract?

A cataract is a progressive clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. This is usually a very slow process, taking decades before the cataract becomes truly symptomatic. Some medical conditions or medications can accelerate the progression of cataracts. For people who have cataracts, seeing through a cloudy lens is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Cataracts form in the lens which is behind your iris; the colored part of your eyes.

“When the natural lens of the eye begins turning into a cataract, the lens will evolve from clear, to yellow, to yellow-brownish to brown in advanced cases. It can take decades to get to the point where it is affecting your vision and gradually things no longer look clear,” said Klein.

2. What can be done?

When your natural lens becomes less transparent with age, this is called a cataract. When a patient’s vision becomes cloudy, blurry or one experiences a lot of glare when driving at night, this may be an indication of advancing cataracts and patients should seek an evaluation from an eye care specialist.

An estimated 61 million adults in the United States are at high risk for serious vision loss, but only half visited an eye doctor in the previous 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Klein likes to talk with his patients and discuss their goals and routines for their lives before they go forward to the next steps.

“It’s essential to speak with your doctor because we need to understand your visual needs and hobbies. A cataract surgery is not necessary until one’s quality of life begins to suffer. This is often manifest as difficulty driving, especially at night, trouble with reading, watching television or distinguishing colors,” said Klein

3. What does cataract surgery look like

Cataract surgery is performed by an ophthalmologist as an outpatient surgery. Patients don’t have to stay overnight at the hospital and it has become one of the most common and successful surgeries in the U.S.

“The surgery is performed with moderate anesthesia where the patient is in a relaxed state. The procedure can take anywhere from five to 30 minutes for a routine case depending on the experience of the surgeon. More complicated cases can take longer. The cloudy lens is removed and a new lens is implanted,” said Klein. “The United States success rate is 98% to 99%.”

4. What is the recovery time

Klein believes patients should review precautions that their doctors suggest during the first few weeks to avoid any issues or complications. The patient’s physician often prescribes antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops to aid in healing and recovery during the first several weeks. The patient is seen several times after surgery to ensure that they are progressing well.

“Most people completely heal between three to four weeks but sometimes it can take a little longer. Everyone heals at their own rate. Still most people will be healed by that timeline,” said Klein. “Some of the first symptoms you might feel is a scratchy feeling or light sensitivity, but that will subside after a few days or weeks.”

5. What can you do to maintain eye health?

Klein said because people can start having cataracts even as early as their 40s, that is why it is essential to have regular eye visits as well as protect your eyes early on. To protect your eyes from harmful solar radiation, you should wear sunglasses that block 100 percent UV rays whenever you are outdoors in daylight. The World Health Organization estimates up to 20 percent of cataracts may be caused by overexposure to UV radiation.

“If you feel something is happening with your vision, we want you to come in as soon as possible,” said Klein. “Even a healthy person can experience some eye problems. It doesn’t always happen when you are older.”

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