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Cataract represents a medical condition that causes the formation of a cloudy and opaque area in the eye’s natural lens, which contains protein and water. Practically, the protein molecules found in the crystalline lens clump together forming a cloudy barrier and blocking the light. Depending on the type of cataract and its progress, some people notice slight changes in their vision while others might experience drastic effects that could leave them blind. This condition is quite common in elders and even though at the beginning glasses might help, if the affected vision interferes with daily activities then surgery represents the next logical step. Fortunately, the procedure is safe and efficient. Even though it is painless, this condition may lead to vision loss if left untreated, which means that seeking medical advice becomes imperative.
Cataract can affect three areas of the eye: the center portion, the outer part and the back surface of the lens.
Symptoms of cataracts usually vary according to the location and the clouding intensity. Because this condition is painless and the progress is very slow, the person affected might notice that something is wrong and seek medical attention years later or probably never if the cataract develops to just one eye. The most common symptoms include blurry vision, glare, diplopia or double vision and sensitivity to bright sunlight, poor night vision, seeing halos around lights and fading of colors, among others.
Generally, people with cataracts see cloudy images, regardless of the distance. Practically, they feel like staring through a foggy window. With the passage of time, because the condition does not allow the light to strike the retina, the brain receives less signals and the vision becomes poorer so people encounter difficulties seeing or driving during the night due to glare from streetlights and oncoming headlights. Another sign that people experience is diplopia and they should not mistake it for diplopia caused by improper alignment of both eyes because the first case may occur even when looking through one eye. In terms of colors, they may appear more yellowish or more faded. At the beginning, it is not a drastic difference but making a clear distinction between similar shades like blue and purple becomes almost impossible. Furthermore, people with cataracts might feel the need to change their glasses more frequently because obviously, the vision starts to deteriorate.
A stranger characteristic of this condition is a phenomenon known as “second sight”. In this case, the cataract has an opposite effect, namely improves vision at close distances. People who used to wear glasses during reading or other activities may discover that they are no longer necessary. Nevertheless, this joy does not last because this miracle improvement disappears as the condition worsens.
Unfortunately, specialists have not found a certain way to prevent or slow the progression of cataracts for patients to evade the need of undergoing surgery. However, they advise using several useful strategies.
During a routine eye examination, any doctor can instantly notice signs of cataract development even if the patient does not experience the symptoms mentioned above. Generally, the appearance of this condition is quite uncommon in individuals under 40 but it is possible for cataract to develop at any age. Regardless of the patient’s age, the symptoms will not kick in until years after. Even though cataract development does not cause long-term damage, doctors will recommend surgery when the patient starts to notice particular signs including poor color and blurry vision, questionable changes in eyeglasses prescription and difficulties with glare. Scheduling an exam becomes imperative and the person affected has the opportunity to receive accurate and professional answers to her questions. Moreover, a conversation with the doctor will determine if surgery could improve her vision.
In order to establish an accurate diagnosis for cataracts, the doctor must clear any doubt regarding the condition of the patient. Thus, after examining the medical history and symptoms, he will proceed to perform a thorough eye examination, which includes various tests.
If glasses or contact lenses cannot correct vision loss, then surgery represents the next step, which has the goal to improve the patient’s quality of life and his ability to perform daily activities, including reading and driving. The patient can delay the procedure in order to analyze carefully the risks and the benefits of this step. Meanwhile, the doctor will recommend periodic eye exams to observe the progression of the cataracts and the patient can use various methods to deal with the condition such as:
These self-care measures are useful for a certain period, but the patient must take into account the progression of the cataract and serious vision deterioration. When performing daily activities become harder, cataract surgery might become the only solution. The surgery consists in using a clear artificial lens to replace permanently the affected lens. The doctor numbs the eye area with local anesthetic but the patient remains awake during the entire procedure. Furthermore, the patient can leave the hospital freely after the surgery. Even though this type of surgery is generally safe, there are chances of bleeding and infection as well as retinal detachment. Following the intervention, the patient might experience slight discomfort for the next days and the healing may last several weeks. Some patients need cataract surgery for both eyes but the doctor will solve each problem in turn meaning that he will wait for the first eye to heal before moving to the second. He can perform the surgery using three basic techniques:
For several days or weeks after the surgery, the patient must strictly observe the doctor’s instructions, which include using eye drops, preventing water or soap entering the eye, rubbing or pressing the eye. The ophthalmologist may ask the patient to wear glasses or something else to protect the eye area, a shield during sleep and inform him regarding the moment he can regain his active life and perform various tasks or hobbies. It is possible for the vision to become blurry or cloudy even years after the intervention and this type of situation demands a laser procedure, which will help restore clear vision.
The most common risks of cataract surgery are ongoing swelling, bleeding and eye infection, detached retina, pain, damage to certain parts of the eye and even vision loss.