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Frequently Asked Questions About Cataracts

There are two types of cataracts: congenital/juvenile, the type we are born with, and age-related cataracts, the type we develop later in life. In this article, we will be discussing age-related cataracts. More than half of us who are lucky enough to live past 65 years of age will develop cataracts. Not everyone will need surgery to remove them. The need for surgery depends on how fast they grow and each person’s vision needs. Someone who is still working or very active may want cataracts removed much sooner than someone who is not.

What causes cataracts?

As we age, crystallin proteins in the lens become damaged. Healthy crystallin keeps other lens proteins soluble. If lens proteins clump together, the lens loses transparency and light scatters instead of passing through, as it does in a clear lens. Unfortunately, the damaged crystallin is more stable than the healthy version and will displace it. With healthy crystallin gone, now lens proteins bind together, causing opacification and light to scatter. This is what gives us the annoying symptoms of cataracts: poor vision, sensitivity to light, and difficulty driving at night.

Why do some people develop cataracts at a much younger age than other people?

There are several risk factors for cataracts:

Age – It is a sad fact that the longer we live, the more likely we are to develop cataracts!

Diabetes – Diabetics are much more likely to develop cataracts than non-diabetics.

Medications – People who use oral steroids for long periods of time often develop cataracts. Many people who take statins for high cholesterol also have a higher risk.

Sunlight – People who spend a lot of time in the sun, without protective eyewear, are at increased risk of cataracts.

Eye injury/inflammation – previous eye injury or repeated bouts of iritis/inflammation increases your risk of developing cataracts.

Your optometrist tells you that you have a cataract…now what?

Unless your vision is very decreased from the cataract, most often you will just be monitored by your optometrist at yearly eye exams. If the condition gets bad enough that you can no longer do things that you want to do, your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist for cataract surgery. Until you need surgery, there are many things you can do to minimize the bothersome symptoms.

Stronger reading prescription, and a brighter light overhead, will allow more comfortable reading. You may try large print books, or try reading on a computer or device that will allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and print size as desired. Most books in print can be downloaded to a computer or Kindle!

Anti-glare coatings on your glasses and sunglasses will reduce some of the glare caused by cataracts. Polarized sunglass lenses also help reduce the glare. Some patients benefit from amber lenses to increase contrast driving in dim light. Other patients just decide to stop driving at nighttime.

If the cataracts get bothersome enough, your optometrist may suggest you consult an ophthalmologist about cataract surgery. During this procedure, the opaque part of your lens is removed and an artificial lens is inserted in its place. You can elect to have a standard lens implanted, or pay to have an astigmatism or multifocal implant. These options should be discussed with your optometrist and again with your surgeon. Recovery time is usually very short. You will use eyedrops for several weeks, and most people can return to usual activities in a few days.

Additionally, research is ongoing for eye drops that help to return the damaged crystallin proteins to its original state, helping to clear cataractous lenses. Animal studies look promising, but this treatment is not mainstream at this time.

How do you avoid cataracts?

To reduce your risk of cataracts, don’t smoke, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and get at least 7 hours of restful sleep every night. You should exercise and maintain lifestyle habits that reduce your risk of obesity and diabetes. Wearing sunglasses and a hat to reduce UV exposure will also help you to avoid cataracts.

Need an eye exam to find out if you have cataracts?

Contact the optometrists at St. Luke Eye Institute in Amarillo to schedule your next eye exam. We can determine if you have any eye conditions, such as cataracts and determine the best steps to take to maintain your desired lifestyle. Give us a call at (806) 359-3937 or Contact Us via email at the link on our home page. You can also visit us in person at 5311 SW 9th Ave. in Amarillo, Texas. Schedule an appointment with our experienced optometrists today!

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