News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
As we age, many people begin to notice a change in their eyesight. Cataracts are quite common and develop when the lens in your eye, which is normally clear, becomes foggy or cloudy. While many develop cataracts in their 40s, it is a slow moving process and often doesn’t become apparent or problematic until your 60s. Over 50% of people over 80 have dealt with cataracts. While they generally develop as people age, eye injuries can also be a cause.
The lens of the eye is made up of protein and water. As the protein breaks down over time, it lingers around the eye. This is what causes the cloudiness. To see, light passes through a clear lens. The lens behind your iris (the colored part of your eye) focuses the light so your brain and eye can work together to process information into a picture.
A cataract impedes that process by clouding over the lens resulting in an inability of the eye to focus light in the same way. This leads to blurry vision or vision loss (trouble seeing). It can feel much like looking through a dusty car windshield. With cataracts, things tend to look hazy and lack color.
A cataract can vary in location and size which impacts how significantly your vision changes. Cataracts can be hereditary and you are more susceptible to them if you smoke or drink heavily, or live in an area with significant air pollution.
It is important to regularly visit your eye doctor as they will check for cataracts. While blurry vision is one sign, seeing double, a sensitivity to light, having trouble seeing at night, and seeing bright lights as faded or yellow are indicators.
One of the best ways to slow down potential cataracts is to protect your eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses that block UV light. Your ophthalmologist will examine and test your eyes for a cataract diagnosis. This includes dilation, which involves putting in eye drops that will widen your pupils. Sometimes they use a slit-lamp microscope to examine your cornea, iris, lens and other areas in front of the eye to spot abnormalities.
Once the eye is dilated, the pupils open wide so your eye doctor can see the back of your eye. During this exam they often also look for glaucoma and will examine the retina and optic nerve. This is called a retinal exam. A refraction and visual acuity test assess the sharpness and clarity of your vision. Each eye is tested individually to determine how well you can see letters of varying sizes.
Over time as cataracts become more serious, surgery will need to be performed. During cataract surgery the cloudy natural lens will be removed and replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens. The good news is that while cataracts can be a very common reason people lose their vision, they can be treated with great results.
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