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Cataracts Explained

Cataracts Explained

Aging isn’t always a pleasant experience for your loved one as health issues seem to crop up faster than a storm on a hot summer day. Cataracts are part of the aging process for the elderly. Although they tend to be common, understanding the symptoms can make cataracts a bit less intimidating.

A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens of the eye which lies behind the pupil and iris.

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of forty and is the principal cause of blindness in the world.

Cataracts currently affect more than twenty-two million Americans age forty and older. And as the United States’ population ages, more than thirty million Americans are expected to have cataracts by 2020.

Cataract types

Subcapsular Cataract

A subcapsular cataract occurs in the back of the lens. Individuals with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications have a higher risk of developing a subcapsular cataract.

Nuclear Cataract

A nuclear cataract forms deep in the central zone or nucleus of the lens. Nuclear cataracts usually are associated with aging.

Cortical Cataract

A cortical cataract is characterized by wedge-like, white opacities that begin in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center. This type of cataract takes place in the lens cortex, which is part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.

Cataract signs and symptoms

A cataract is initially small and has little effect on your vision. You might notice that your vision is blurred a little. This experience is similar to looking through a cloudy piece of glass or viewing an impressionist painting.

A cataract might make light from the lamp or sun seem too bright. You might also notice while driving at night, oncoming headlights cause more glare than before. Colors do not appear as bright as they once were.

The type of cataract you have will affect the symptoms you experience and the time they will occur. A nuclear cataract that is first developing could cause “second sight”, which is a temporary improvement in your nearsightedness.

This improved vision is short-lived and will disappear as the cataract worsens. But a subcapsular cataract might not produce any symptoms until it is well-developed.

What is the cause of cataracts?

The lens inside the eye works just like a camera lens, focusing light on the retina for clear vision. It can also adjust the eye’s focus and allow us to see things clearly both far away and close up.

A majority of the lens is made up of protein and water. The protein is arranged in a specific way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through.

But as we get older, some of the protein might clump together and begin to cloud a small area of the lens. Over time, it might grow larger and cloud more of the lens. This will make it harder to see.

No one knows for sure why the lens of the eye changes and forms cataracts as we age.

Although there is a lot of controversy about whether cataracts can be prevented, a number of studies suggest almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, kale and other green leafy vegetables may reduce your risk of cataracts.

Other studies have shown that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids might reduce cataract risk as well.

If you think you have a cataract, click here to see ophthalmology and adult strabismus expert Dr. Sami for an exam!