A cataract is a clouding that occurs in the lens of the eye. The lens is located directly behind the iris (colored part of the eye). It is what is responsible for the correct focusing of images onto the retina. As the lens gets deposits on it and becomes cloudy, the vision progressively worsens.
The signs and symptoms of cataracts can vary depending on the type of cataract. Some cataracts can present with difficulty focusing on far away objects while others can often disperse light and lead to excessive glare when looking at bright lights. As cataracts begin to form the vision becomes smudged or hazy. Glare from lights may lead to difficulty seeing, and one may feel that his or her glasses seem to be dirty.
Cataracts can occur at any age but usually start appearing in the 4th to 5th decades of life. Eye injuries and even certain medications, such as steroids, have been linked to lens to opacification. Cataracts are also associated with disease such as diabetes, uveitis, and can often run in families.
There is not much that can be done to prevent the formation of cataracts, as they are a universal aging change in the general population. Some reports have linked early cataracts to increase UV exposure. Wearing polarized sunglasses may be beneficial in halting the progression of lens opacities. As cataracts develop it may be possible to change one's glasses prescription to obtain clearer vision but eventually, if the cataract becomes dense enough, surgery to remove the “dirty lens” and replace it with an artificial implant is required.
Cataract surgery is performed with the aid of an operating microscope. A small incision is made and microsurgical instruments are used to fragment the cloudy lens and suction the remnants from the eye. The “dirty” lens is replaced with a clear lens implant which is placed back into the eye. These implants are specially made for each individual and require measurements to be taken before the surgery. Stitches are generally not required and the surgery is usually performed on an out-patient basis. Most people return to work shortly after surgery and full activity is usually allowed after two weeks.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the United States with a success rate of over 95%. As with any surgery, although very rare, there is always the possibility of complications. There is a small possibility of infection, bleeding, or swelling of the retina which can generally be treated with medications. Rarely, a retinal detachment may occur or the need for another operation may arise. If your eye is healthy aside from the cataract, the chances are excellent that you will have a good result from your surgery and see things more clearly.