The formation of cataracts is common as you grow older. They are the leading cause of vision problems in adults over 55. Unfortunately, there are no medications or diets that can slow the progression.

Signs & Symptoms of Cataracts

When you have a cataract covering your eye, your world may appear blurry, dim and less colorful. You may also experience halos and glare. It’s like looking through a fog.

As you age, the lenses in your eyes become less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Age-related and other medical conditions cause tissues within the lens to break down and clump together, clouding small areas within the lens.

Factors that increase your risk of cataracts include:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Previous eye injury or inflammation
  • Previous eye surgery
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

When to See a Doctor

Annual eye exams are important to maintain good eye health. When a cataract is just beginning to form, your optometrist may prescribe glasses or contacts to minimize your symptoms and preserve your vision. Eventually, cataracts typically worsen. When this happens, your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist who specializes in eye diseases and eye surgery.

Types of Cataracts

Different types of cataracts may develop including:

  • Nuclear Cataracts that affect the center of the lens. A nuclear cataract may at first cause more nearsightedness or even a temporary improvement in your reading vision. But with time, the lens gradually turns more densely yellow, or even brown, and further clouds your vision, making it difficult to distinguish colors.
  • Cortical Cataracts that affect the edges of the lens. A cortical cataract begins as whitish, wedge-shaped opacities or streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. As it progresses, streaks reach the center and interfere with light passing through the lens.
  • Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts that affect the back of the lens. Such cataracts start as small, opaque areas that usually form near the back of the lens, right in the path of light. A posterior subcapsular cataract often interferes with your reading vision, reduces your vision in bright light, and causes glare or halos around lights at night. These cataracts tend to progress faster than other types.
  • Congenital Cataracts are cataracts you're born with. Some people are born with cataracts or develop them during childhood. These cataracts may be genetic, or associated with an intrauterine infection or trauma. Congenital cataracts may not affect vision, but if they do they're usually removed promptly.

Diagnosing & Treating Cataracts

While an optometrist may be the first to notice a cataract developing, he or she will refer patients to an ophthalmologist – a specialist in eye diseases and eye surgery – for diagnosis and treatment.

During the initial diagnosis, you doctor will:

  • Review your medical history and symptoms
  • Examine your eyes
  • Conduct several tests which may include a visual acuity test, slit-lamp examination and a dilated retinal examination.

Choosing Your Best Vision

Your doctor will explain the various surgical options and the choices you have for replacement lenses. In the past, nearly everyone received the same basic replacement lens, but today additional choices allow you to customize your vision based on your needs and lifestyle. You’ll be able to choose from monofocal lenses, multifocal lenses or astigmatism-correcting lenses.

Cataract surgery is generally covered by Medicare or insurance, but you may have out-of-pocket costs depending upon the replacement lens you choose.

If you have experienced changes in your vision, it may be time for an eye exam. Mercy has an experienced team of eye care specialists who will help you see life with the best possible vision, and keep you enjoying all the activities you love.

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