A Little Bit About Cataracts
Curious about cataracts? Most people are… especially since we will all develop cataracts to some extent in our lifetimes – provided we live long enough. Cataracts are a natural part of aging. That’s right… it happens to everyone, just like getting grey hair. And the way I explain this to my patients is that - just like any age related change – it all depends on the individual as to how fast and how aggressive the cataract process is. Several factors can cause the natural lens of the eye to age more quickly and I will go over those factors, but first, what are cataracts?
Cataracts affect the natural lens of the eyes and come in several different forms. The lens is a major refracting (focusing) element of the eye. As light enters the eye it must pass through the cornea, then through the pupil, and then through the lens to get to the retina….and it’s this lens that can get yellow over time and impede this process of getting images to the retina. For example, typically, when the lens is young and healthy…light and color zip through the lens to get the retina and you see clearly (provided you have your refractive error corrected). Then, as time marches by, the lens gets cloudy and yellowed and thickened and now light and color can’t zip back to the retina as easily and we start to see blur, glare, haloes, loss of color and contrast, changes to refractive status, etc. Fortunately though, this process is usually very slow and we don’t notice the changes until they are pretty far along.
What are the factors that can increase cataract formation?
Factors that cause these changes to be more aggressive or to develop more rapidly include trauma (this can really cause cataracts to form quickly!), intraocular surgeries, genetics (if your parents or grandparents developed cataracts at an earlier age, you might too…), health, UV exposure, medications (for example, steroids are a big one) among other factors but these are the big ones.
What happens if cataracts start to affect your vision?
If your vision is worsening due to cataracts, then it might be time to have them removed. When this happens, the cataract surgeon removed the old cloudy lens and replaces it with an implant that functions to allow light to move through the eye again to get to the retina clearly. There are many types of implants available now and they can actually result in a lesser dependence on glasses after surgery. Very cool stuff.
How can I prevent cataracts?
The best way to prevent cataract formation is to wear good sunglasses when you are outside! UV light causes the eyes to age more quickly and this can result in a speeding up of the cataract process. As always, health and nutrition are important factors to keeping the entire eye healthy and functioning properly. And don’t forget to have your eyes examined yearly by your eye doctor!!