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Understanding Cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye condition that affects millions of people worldwide, causing a gradual decline in vision. This article will explore cataracts’ causes, symptoms, and risk factors. By understanding these aspects, you can take proactive steps to maintain a healthy vision and seek appropriate care. 

Causes of Cataracts

Cataracts can develop due to various reasons, including:
  1. Aging: Age-related cataracts are the most common type and typically occur as a natural part of aging. 
  2. Genetics: Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to cataract development. 
  3. Eye Injuries: Trauma to the eye can increase the risk of cataract formation. 
  4. Medical Conditions: Diabetes, hypertension, and certain medications (e.g., corticosteroids) can contribute to cataract development. 
  5. Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and prolonged exposure to sun ultraviolet (UV) radiation may increase the risk of cataracts. 

Symptoms of Cataracts

Recognizing the symptoms of cataracts can help you seek early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Common symptoms include:
  1. Blurred Vision: Objects may appear hazy or less sharp. 
  2. Increased Sensitivity to Glare: Bright lights, such as headlights or sunlight, can cause discomfort and difficulty seeing. 
  3. Reduced Color Perception: Colors may appear faded or yellowed. 
  4. Poor Night Vision: Difficulty seeing in low-light conditions, such as driving at night. 
  5. Double Vision: Seeing double images in one eye. 
  6. Frequent Prescription Changes: The need for frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions. 

Risk Factors for Cataracts

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts: 
  1. Advancing Age: The risk of cataracts increases with age. 
  2. Smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of cataracts. 
  3. Excessive Sun Exposure: Prolonged exposure to UV radiation without proper eye protection can accelerate cataract formation. 
  4. Medical Conditions: Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity may increase the risk of cataracts. 
  5. Medications: Long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids or statins, may contribute to cataract development. 

Diagnosing Cataracts

Early detection and diagnosis are essential for effectively managing cataracts. Your ophthalmologist will perform a comprehensive eye exam, which may include:
  1. Visual Acuity Test: Measures the clarity of your vision. 
  2. Slit-Lamp Examination: The doctor can examine the eye’s structures, including the lens. 
  3. Dilated Eye Exam: The ophthalmologist uses eye drops to enlarge the pupil and examine the back of the eye for any signs of cataracts or other eye conditions. 

Preventative Measures

While age and genetics are uncontrollable factors, you can take proactive steps to reduce the risk of cataracts: 
  1. Protect Your Eyes from UV Radiation: Wear sunglasses with UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat outdoors.
  2. Quit Smoking: Smoking cessation can positively impact your overall eye health. 
  3. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and antioxidants. Regular exercise and managing chronic conditions can also support eye health. 
  4. Regular Eye Exams: Schedule comprehensive eye exams at least once every two years or as your eye care professional recommends. 

Treatment Options

When cataracts significantly affect your daily life and vision, cataract surgery is typically recommended. The surgery involves removing and replacing the cloudy lens with an artificial lens implant. Advancements in surgical techniques and lens options, such as multifocal or toric lenses, have improved outcomes and reduced reliance on glasses.  Understanding cataracts’ causes, symptoms, and risk factors empowers you to prioritize you eye health and seek timely care. By adopting preventative measures, attending regular eye exams, and staying informed about treatment options, you can maintain clear vision and enjoy a better quality of life. If you suspect cataracts or have eye health concerns, call our office at (423) 385-2020 to schedule an appointment. 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Mabry, MD

Dr. Elizabeth Mabry is a board-certified ophthalmologist providing comprehensive eye care at her Chattanooga practice, Mabry Eye-Center.