A cataract is when your eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy. Proteins in your lens break down and cause things to look blurry, hazy or less colorful.
Inside our eyes, we have a natural lens. The lens bends (refracts) light rays that come into the eye to help us see. The lens should be clear, like the top lens in the illustration.
If you have a cataract, your lens has become cloudy which is like looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield. Things look blurry, hazy or less colorful with a cataract.
If you notice any of these cataract symptoms, notify your ophthalmologist.
Aging is the most common cause. This is due to normal eye changes that begin to happen after age 40. That is when normal proteins in the lens start to break down. This is what causes the lens to get cloudy. People over age 60 usually start to have some clouding of their lenses. However, vision problems may not happen until years later.
Other reasons you may get cataracts include:
Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Other cataracts can develop more quickly, such as those in younger people or those in people with diabetes. Doctors cannot predict how quickly a person’s cataract will develop.
Your ophthalmologist will examine and test your eyes to make a cataract diagnosis. This comprehensive eye exam will include dilation. This means eye drops will widen your pupils.
Your ophthalmologist will examine your cornea, iris, lens and the other areas at the front of the eye. The special slit-lamp microscope makes it easier to spot abnormalities.
When your eye is dilated, the pupils are wide open so the doctor can more clearly see the back of the eye. Using the slit lamp, an ophthalmoscope or both, the doctor looks for signs of cataract. Your ophthalmologist will also look for glaucoma, and examine the retina and optic nerve.
This test assesses the sharpness and clarity of your vision. Each eye is tested individually for the ability to see letters of varying sizes.
Once I have a cataract diagnosis, what should I do?
Cataracts can be removed only with surgery.
If your cataract symptoms are not bothering you very much, you don’t have to remove a cataract. You might just need a new eyeglass prescription to help you see better. You should consider surgery when cataracts keep you from doing things you want or need to do.
During cataract surgery, your eye surgeon will remove your eye’s cloudy natural lens and replace it with an artificial lens. This new lens is called an intraocular lens (or IOL). When you decide to have cataract surgery, your doctor will talk with you about IOLs and how they work.
People who have had cataract surgery may have their vision become hazy again years later. This is usually because the lens capsule has become cloudy. The capsule is the part of your eye that holds the IOL in place. Your ophthalmologist can use a laser to open the cloudy capsule and restore clear vision. This is called a capsulotomy.
Cataracts are a very common reason people lose vision, but they can be treated. You and your ophthalmologist should discuss your cataract symptoms. Together you can decide whether you are ready for cataract surgery.