What Are Cataracts? - UPMC

What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are the main cause of impaired vision in the world, particularly in developing countries. Our ophthalmologists explain that a cataract refers to the loss of transparency or a “clouding” of the naturally occurring lens within the eye.

Aging and exposure to sunlight can cause cataracts. They are a common cause of visual complaints in people over the age of 50. The HSE estimates that more than half of people who are over 65 years of age have some cataract development in one or both eyes.

Cataracts can also happen after an eye injury, as a result of eye disease, after you use certain medicines, or as a result of health problems such as diabetes.

Types of Cataracts

There are three types of cataracts, and they are categorized primarily by where they start within the eye.

  1. Nuclear cataracts: The most common age-related cataract, these start in the centre of the lens and are mostly caused by the hardening of the lens.
  2. Cortical cataracts: Originating on the outside edge of the lens and moving towards the centre of the eye, these cataracts are characterized by white, cloudy spots on the lens of the eye.
  3. Subcapsular cataracts: Beginning in the back of the lens, these cloudy areas can create a halo effect and glare around lights.

Symptoms of Cataracts

For some people, the symptoms of cataracts develop slowly over time and they do not realise they have a problem. But for others, the symptoms are much more obvious. Some of the most common signs that you may have a cataract include:

  • Blurry, cloudy, or foggy vision
  • Glare (from headlights, lamps, and the sun)
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Change in eyeglass prescription
  • Double vision in one eye

Diagnosis of Cataracts

Screening for cataracts is part of a comprehensive eye exam. Many of the routine tests that your doctor performs during your exams act as screening tools. It’s important to not opt out of dilatation drops during your exam because they are used to better examine the lens and other parts of the eye. Anytime you are experiencing difficulty seeing, or have blurred or double vision, you should consult your ophthalmologist.

Cataract Treatment

In most cases, early cataract symptoms can be managed effectively through adjusting the prescription in your eyeglasses, wearing anti-glare lenses or sunglasses, increasing light while reading, and other vision aids.

In cases where the cataract begins to interfere with your quality of life, cataract surgery can be an option. During this common procedure, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear plastic lens called an intraocular lens.

Cataract Prevention

The development of cataracts is often linked to smoking, diabetes, poor nutrition, trauma, steroid use, and exposure to the sun. Although there are no proven prevention methods, quitting smoking, eating a diet full of antioxidants (leafy greens and fruits), and wearing sunglasses and a hat while in the sun may help protect your vision.

If you are experiencing eye problems, make an appointment to see a trusted consultant ophthalmologist at UPMC Whitfield Hospital or UPMC Kildare Hospital.

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