Getting Down to the Basics: the Facts on Cataracts

You may already know that a cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision – but do you know what and where the lens is? You may also know that blurry or cloudy vision is a symptom of cataracts – but do you know what other symptoms may be indicative of cataracts? And while a lot of cataracts are a result of aging, there are other types as well.

We’d like to use this post to get down to basics so you know what to look for and when it’s time to discuss your vision problems with your eye doctor.

First things first – what is the lens?

The lens, located behind the iris and the pupil, is a clear part of the eye that helps to focus light or images on the retina (the retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). Light passes through the transparent lens to the retina in a normal eye. Once light reaches the retina, it’s changed into nerve signals that are then sent to the brain. In order for the retina to receive a sharp image, the lens must be clear. People with cataracts see blurry images because of clouding on the lens.

The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things precisely from up close and far away. It’s made of mostly water and protein, arranged in a way that keeps the lens clear and allows light to pass through. As people age, some of the protein in the lens may clump together and begin clouding a small area – this is a cataract. As time goes on, the cataract may grow bigger and cloud more of the lens, causing it to become harder to see.

Are there symptoms besides cloudy vision?

Yes, here are some additional symptoms that can be early signs of cataracts:

  • Lens discoloration: When you have cataracts, you may notice a brownish tint to your vision. This is because your lens has slowly changed to a yellowish or brownish color. The tint may be slight at first, but with time the tinting or fading of colors can increase, causing difficulty when reading or watching television. As the lens discoloration advances, you may be unable tell the difference between colors, especially blue or purple.
  • Myopic shift: You used to be able to see really well from a distance, but needed reading glasses to see up close. But lately, you don’t need reading glasses and your distance vision has gotten much worse. This is a sign that the cataract is evolving and in a short period of time, the lens will become very cloudy and your vision may further deteriorate.
  • Glares and halos: You may find that an oncoming car’s headlights, the sun or indoor lamps suddenly seem too bright. Cataracts can cause you to see glares or halos around everyday light sources.

*Keep in mind that there are more symptoms than just what we’ve listed here and that symptoms can be caused by other eye diseases as well.

Are there other types of cataracts?

Yes, there are other types of cataracts unrelated to aging. Those include secondary, traumatic, congenital and radiation cataracts.

  • Secondary cataracts can form after surgery for other eye problems, like glaucoma. They may also develop in people with health problems like diabetes or as a result of steroid use.
  • Traumatic cataracts can develop following an eye injury – sometimes several years later.
  • Some babies are born with congenital cataracts or develop them in childhood. These cataracts may be so small that they have no affect on vision. However, if they do begin to affect vision, the lenses may need to be removed.
  • Radiation cataracts can develop after exposure to certain types of radiation.

Do you think you may be developing cataracts or that your cataracts are steadily getting worse? Speak with one of our fellowship-trained specialists at Illinois Eye Center to correctly diagnosis and treat your condition. Call 309-243-2400 today.

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