Dr. Crutchfield, my mother said she is having trouble with a cataract. What is that?
A cataract is a decrease in vision that results from cloudiness in the lens of the eye. Your vision will appear blurry, cloudy or dim. Some liken it to trying to look through a foggy window. Cataracts may start as a small spot that gradually increases over time to affect a large part of the visual field.
Cataracts occur in the lens of the eye. Over time, the lenses of the eyes can become stiff and cloudy. This results in diminished or blurry vision is known as a cataract.
Cataracts can run in families. Cataracts can also be caused by several medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and any trauma to the eye including past eye surgery or trauma. Other external factors that can either cause or worsen cataracts include smoking and excessive exposure to sunlight, radiation or steroids.
Cataract signs and symptoms may include:
• Clouded, blurred or dim vision
• Difficulty seeing at night
• Sensitivity to bright lights
• Seeing “rings” around lighted objects
• The need to frequently change eye prescriptions
• Colors look faded or yellow
• Double vision in just one eye
To determine whether you have a cataract, your doctor will perform an examination that will likely include certain basic tests.
Your doctor will check your vision by testing your visual acuity — that is your ability to read, usually with the “doctor’s office eye chart,” an internal eye examination that evaluates both the contents and structures of your eye and your retina on the back side of your eye. During the examination, your doctor will examine the clearness of the lens of your eye to evaluate for a cataract.
The only effective cataract treatment is a surgical correction. Your doctor will recommend when surgery is appropriate. Surgery usually is recommended when the cataract begins to interfere with normal activities of living such as reading or driving a car safely, which can result in a decreased quality of living.
For cataract surgery, the diseased lens is surgically removed and replaced with a new, clear, artificial lens. It is placed in the same location as your original lens and will remain in place. Most cataract surgeries can be done in an outpatient setting with only local anesthesia.
Cataract surgery in not an option for everyone. In these rare cases, the clouded lens may be removed with other visual improvement systems utilized, such as contact lenses or eye glasses. Your eye doctor will recommend the best treatment program for your cataract.
The best way to prevent cataracts is to eat healthy, protect your eyes from ultraviolet radiation (good UV-protecting sunglasses), don’t smoke, and don’t use steroids around your eyes without the supervision of a doctor. Make sure to schedule regular check-ups and be sure your cholesterol, weight, blood sugar and blood pressure are at healthy levels.
Remember, if you notice any changes in your vision, consult your primary care or eye doctor right away.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.