24.4 million Americans over the age of 40 are affected by different types of cataracts.
Additionally, approximately half of all people over 75 have cataracts.
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. The lens sits just behind your pupil, which is the black ‘dot’ in the middle of the eye.
As a cataract spreads, the lens becomes more and more opaque. This means that light may be prevented from reaching the retina at the back of the eye. Additionally, it may distort the light. This can result in blurry vision or even a complete loss of vision.
All types of cataracts may be difficult to notice at first, as they tend to develop over many years. But while there are several different types of cataracts, the symptoms can be quite similar.
Sufferers may find it hard to see in dim lighting or in very bright lighting. Glasses can become less effective at helping you to see. And sight may have a brown or orange ‘tinge’.
Generally speaking, if you’re over the age of 45 and you’re finding it harder to see clearly, you should consult with an ophtalmologist to check for early signs of cataract development.
What increases your risk of developing cataracts, and what types of cataracts may develop in our eyes? We explain all in this article.
Increasing Risk Factors
Age is one major risk factor which can spur the development of cataracts. However, other things can also increase your risk of developing cataracts.
For instance, there is research to suggest a strong link between smoking and cataracts. Smoking can speed up age-related macular degeneration (AMD.) AMD is the medical term for losing the sight from the centre of your eyes as you grow older.
Smoking doubles the risk of developing AMD, and AMD in turn will often lead to cataracts forming. Stopping smoking at a younger age can help to prevent this. Sites like SmokeFree have many useful tools and tips for those wanting to quit.
While smoking is widely known to have adverse health effects, there are many other risk factors to consider. Diabetes, previous eye injuries, and the use of certain medicines can all increase your risk of developing cataracts. It’s important to know what to look out for.
Diabetics may also suffer from diabetic retinopathy. This can cause progressive and permanent damage to the retina of the eye. The retina is the layer of cells at the back which transmit light signals to the optic nerve.
It is therefore important that diabetics have regular checks for symptoms of both cataracts and this sight-threatening condition.
Unfortunately, simply having a family history of cataracts may also increase your risk of developing them yourself.
However, certain types of cataracts are the result of very specific causes. Below, we’ve outlined 7 of the most common. We’ve also explained the factors which cause them.
Nuclear cataracts are the most common out of all types of cataracts. They are a typical result of aging. Gradually, the central area of the eye lens – the ‘nucleus’ – starts to harden and turn yellow.
As the cataract develops, it will spread to other areas of the lens from the centre. This decreases the amount of light reaching the retina. This will make it harder for a sufferer to see properly in places with dim lighting or at night.
Depending on how the nuclear cataract spreads, it may result in double vision in just one eye. This will impede walking and orientation. It may also make it impossible to drive safely.
It won’t stop spreading unless treated with appropriate surgery.
In a sense, cortical cataracts are the opposite to nuclear cataracts. This is because they start from the edges of the lens (the ‘cortex’) and spread into the centre, towards the nucleus.
These can often be seen on the eyeball as white patches working their way in towards the centre. They move slowly. However, they won’t stop progressing unless treated.
People with cortical cataracts often find it difficult to look at light, as they increase the perceived glare from light sources. It can also cause problems with depth perception. This can affect a person’s overall coordination.
Diabetics are at particular risk of developing this type of cataract. So, they need to keep an eye out for the warning signs of cloudy areas creeping in from the edge of the iris.
Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts
Posterior capsular cataracts form on the back side of the lens, rather than on the front like a cortical or nuclear cataract.
These types of cataracts are more common in people who are diabetic. They also more commonly occur in people who have been taking oral steroidal drugs, which are sometimes prescribed to treat arthritis.
If your doctor has prescribed you these and you do develop this type of cataract, consult with them again to see if there are alternative treatment options available.
Most people suffering from types of cataracts affecting the lens on its internal-facing side will find it hard to cope with glaring lights. They may also experience a ‘halo’ effect when looking at light.
Near vision is also more likely to be affected than long vision. This can make it difficult to read or use nearby screen technology.
The word ‘congenital’ means that something has been in place since birth. So congenital cataracts are the types of cataracts which affect newborn babies.
Up to 23% of congenital cataracts are inherited, meaning that they are the result of genes. Other congenital cataracts may be the result of a mother’s illness during pregnancy.
These cataracts vary in their severity. Some will cause major vision problems, but others will be very small and may not be noticed for years, if at all.
Severe cataracts need to be treated as soon as possible. The way the brain and eye work together continues to develop until the child is around 7 years old.
If a strong connection is not made during this time it may result in permanent visual disability or other vision disorders. This is because the brain may never learn to correctly interpret the signals from the eye before this time frame ends.
If only one eye is affected, the brain may ‘ignore’ the signals from that eye. This is called amblyopia – known colloquially as ‘lazy eye’. This can end up with the child losing vision in the ‘lazy’ eye permanently.
Only being able to use one eye has severe consequences. These can include a limited sphere of vision, lack of co-ordination, and inhibited depth perception.
Secondary cataracts are those which occur after any types of cataracts have already been treated with surgery.
During surgery, the parts of the organic lens affected by cataracts are removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens. This normally resolves the problem for good.
However, in a relatively small number of cases, the posterior capsule (see above) becomes cloudy again. The re-occurring condition can take a few months — or even a few years — to develop.
This happens because affected cells ‘grow back’ over the top of the lens. This results in cloudy, cataract-affected vision.
The treatment for secondary cataracts is rather different than for initial cataracts.
You’ll learn about that treatment below.
A laser called a YAG (yttrium-aluminum-garnet) is used to create a very small hole in the lens. It allows light to reach the back of the eye once more.
This is a very fast procedure and can sometimes be done on the spot by the opthamologist who detects it. Though you might have to use eye drops for a few weeks afterwards.
Some types of cataracts may be caused as the result of an injury to the eye.
Eye injuries, or eye ‘traumas’, are very common – one-fifth of all adults will suffer from this type of injury at some point in their lives.
For example, a person may be struck in the eye during an accident and this disrupts the fibers which make up the lens – resulting in a cataract.
Traumatic eye injuries can also be commonly associated with a range of other problems affecting the lens, cornea and retina. This means that traumatic cataracts can be more difficult to treat than other types of cataracts.
And they can also occur at the same time as other types of cataracts, such as cataracts which are the result of old age.
Opthamologists must decide how best to treat the eye in this situation. It is likely to be a longer and more complex procedure than that to treat, for example, a nuclear cataract which developed due to old age.
However, a skilled expert will be able to navigate the potential difficulties of surgery. They can find a course of treatment to sort out the underlying problems.
Cataracts may be caused by routine exposure to radiation. We are all sometimes exposed to forms of radiation. For example, this happens when a doctor or dentist takes an x-ray of our bodies.
Cancer patients may be most susceptible to develop this type of cataract, however. This is because cancer may be treated using radiotherapy. This is where radioactive rays of very high but targeted power are used to attack and destroy cancer cells.
But since they’re being exposed to this treatment on a fairly regular basis, cancer patients may develop cataracts as a side effect of the radiation.
These types of cataracts are primarily posterior subcapsular and occasionally cortical cataracts. However, other types of cataracts may develop following exposure to radiation.
How Cataracts are Treated With Surgery
Cataracts need to be removed using surgical techniques. We understand that some patients find the idea of surgery being performed on the eye to be distressing.
However, cataract surgery is one of the most common types of surgery performed in the USA. It is also one of the safest.
When carried out with appropriate skill and aftercare, the risks are minimized. Your opthamologist will be able to advise on further actions to aid your recovery.
During surgery, the areas of the eye lens affected by any types of cataracts are removed and replaced with a clear man-made lens.
Only one eye will be treated at a time. Ths is because a pad and shield is usually placed over the eye afterwards. In the case that you have cataracts in both eyes, you should schedule a second appointment to take place a couple of weeks after the first.
Recovery is quite quick. After the operation, you’ll be free to go home, though it’s best if someone comes to pick you up. You definitely should not drive yourself home after the treatment.
You may experience soreness for a little while, and we advise that you take it easy for a few days after the operation so that you can make a full recovery.
Ask a member of family to be around during that time to help you out. This is important, since you won’t have decent depth perception if your eye has been covered.
You’ll have a course of eye drops to use for a week or two, which will help your eye to heal and help to stop it becoming infected.
After this, the eye should be completely healed, and sight fully restored.
Where Can I Find Treatment for all Types of Cataracts?
Nearly 2 million Americans undergo surgery each year for the treatment of cataracts. The outcome? A 36% gain in the quality of life after surgery to treat both eyes.
So don’t suffer the imposition of cataracts, nor let them affect the quality of your life.
The Magruder Eye Institute specializes in the treatment of all types of cataracts, glaucoma, and many other vision disorders.
Our ophtalmologists are extremely thorough. We will identify the type of cataract you suffer from. We’ll work with you to advise on a course of treatment for either one or both eyes as appropriate.
If you’re suffering from one or more types of cataracts, book an appointment to see us as soon as possible.
We offer state-of-the-art laser cataract surgery to restore our clients’ vision and improve their lives.
Call us today on (407) 893-8200 to arrange to see one of our expert opthamologists