Cataracts – Get the Facts
The lens is primarily made of water and proteins. A healthy lens is clear, allowing light to pass through and focusing it on the retina. As we age and the body becomes less well moisturized, the lens proteins can clump together, forming opaque areas called cataracts. They reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina, making vision dim and blurry.
If left untreated they will cause blindness, and are in fact the primary cause of blindness worldwide. In a very few cases, they cause no vision problems, and in some people they develop so slowly that they never become severe enough for treatment.
Types of cataracts
Cataracts are classified according to their cause:
- Age related cataracts – the most common type, accelerated by smoking, alcohol use, sun exposure, poor diet, and steroid use
- Congenital cataracts – already present at birth
- Traumatic cataracts – form after an injury to the eye
- Radiation cataracts – caused by radiation exposure
- Secondary cataracts – form after surgery or due to a medical condition or disease such as diabetes
- Poor night vision
- Faded colors
- Double vision in one eye
- Cloudy vision
- Blurry vision
- Frequent change in prescription for corrective lenses
You can read more about cataract symptoms at Ten Signs That You May be Developing Cataracts.
Cataracts are considered to be a natural and inevitable effect of aging, but like all age-related problems, their development can sometimes be slowed down to the point that symptoms never present themselves at all.
- Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing good sunglasses with UV protection. Wear a hat that fully shades your eyes.
- Eat foods that are rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids. Vitamins E and C and the B vitamins, riboflavin and thiamin, are thought to help prevent cataracts. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as salmon, walnuts, flax seeds, and avocados, may also help.
- Cut back on sugar. High blood sugar levels contribute to the formation of cataracts.
- Cut back on calories. In animal studies cutting calories has actually reduced existing cataracts.
- Do not smoke and do not drink excessively.
- Cut back on foods that cause sinus congestion, such as dairy products. Sinus congestion impairs lymph and blood flow around the eyes.
Cataracts are treated by surgically removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens known as an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL becomes a permanent part of your eye and requires no special care once your eye has fully healed. For more information, please see Cataract Surgery.
When the natural lens is removed, the eye’s accommodative ability is lost with it. Accommodation is the term for the easy switching of focus between near and far objects. It is done by the lens, which changes its curvature to bend light at different angles, making it always focus on the retina.
There is one FDA-approved IOL which mimics the natural lens in its accommodation. That is the Crystalens® and the 2008 improved version known as Crystalens HD™. Rather than changing its curvature like the natural lens, it moves forward and back, controlled by the same muscles which previously controlled the natural lens.
There are also two multifocal IOLs with FDA-approval, known as ReZoom™ and ReSTOR®. These use different technologies, but they both have concentric zones or steps which refract light differently to give clear vision at all distances.
Having cataracts does not necessarily disqualify you for LASIK. Please see our page on Cataracts and Refractive Surgery.
Cataract symptoms can be a sign of other, more damaging eye conditions. If you are experiencing vision problems it would be wise to schedule an appointment with a cataract surgeon today. Dr. Khanna of the Khanna Institute in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California has years of experience in cataract surgery and intra-ocular lens surgery.