As people age, their eyes change, often requiring them to visit an optometrist to obtain stronger glasses or corrective lenses. However, there are various eye problems that require the expertise of a doctor specializing in ophthalmology. One of the more common eye concerns for many older people is cataracts.
What Are Cataracts?
Cataracts are the clouding of the eye’s lens, which is located behind the iris and pupil. Cataracts are most common in people over the age of 40 in the United States, but worldwide, they are the main cause of blindness. There are three different types of cataracts:
• Cortical cataracts
• Nuclear cataracts
• Subcapsular cataracts
Nuclear cataracts are the ones most associated with aging and are located in the nucleus, or center, of the eye’s lens. Cortical cataracts occur in the lens cortex and are white, opaque growths that start on the edge of the lens and move towards the center of it. Subcapsular cataracts grow at the back of the lens and occur mainly in people who have diabetes or who take high doses of steroid medications.
When cataracts start developing, the symptoms are usually very subtle, and you may not realize there is a problem right away. The most common symptom is blurry or hazy vision. Other symptoms may include increased light sensitivity. You may notice oncoming headlights seem to be more glaring when you drive at night, and colors may not appear to be as bright as they once did.
The symptoms you have can often indicate the type of cataract that is developing. With nuclear cataracts, you may notice a slight improvement in your near vision, which is referred to as “second sight.” However, as cataracts further develop, this improvement will disappear. With subcapsular cataracts, you may not have any indications of a problem until they are well developed.
When you first start noticing problems with your vision caused by cataracts, getting stronger lenses for your glasses, switching to bifocals or trifocals, magnification, and other visual aids can help for a while. While some people accept their cataracts as a normal sign of aging, cataracts can be easily corrected with surgery. When you are recommended to an ophthalmology specialist, they will outline your options, including cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery involves replacing the eye’s natural lens with a plastic intraocular lens, or IOL. The surgery is fairly simple and is usually handled in the ophthalmologist’s clinic. About 90 percent of people who have the surgery are able to regain 20/20 or 20/40 vision. If you have concerns about your vision, you should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist for an examination and treatment options.