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Cataracts: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment




Optician examining man's eye for cataracts

According to the National Eye Institute, approximately 50% of all people 80 years of age and up in the U.S. will personally be affected by cataracts. Some people are able to cope just fine with cataracts, especially if they don’t impair their vision too much. On the other hand, doing things like driving can become much more difficult and dangerous for those suffering from cataracts. Although seniors are at a higher risk of developing cataracts as they age, they can also appear in children and young adults. The best way to treat cataracts is to have them operated on as soon as possible. Read below to get timely information available on the symptoms, diagnosis and successful treatment of cataracts. 

Cataracts - History and Discovery

Present in humans and animals, cataracts cause the iris to become cloudy and, in some, lighter in color. They usually impair vision and cause light sensitivity. Before the 1700s, there were no practical treatments for cataracts. A doctor by the name of Jacques Daviel was able to perform on a patient with cataracts, remove them, and help him to fully recover. This was a remarkable development, considering the high risk of infection. Doctors and ophthalmologists still use surgical techniques developed by Dr. Daviel to remove cataracts today, albeit with more advanced tools. 

Signs and Symptoms of Cataracts

The first signs of cataracts might not be apparent to others, but sufferers will realize that their vision is diminishing. People with cataracts report seeing visual distortions, particularly when looking at the light. In fact, cataracts can be exasperated and even caused by looking at direct light sources such as the sun for too long. It will be difficult for people with cataracts to focus their eyes on the details as everything will appear blurry. Driving at night will become more difficult as the headlights on cars can worsen existing symptoms. Cataracts can also cause other visual issues like double vision and even temporary blindness. Without treatment, cataract sufferers are at a very high risk of going completely blind. Other than visual issues, there aren’t any additional symptoms.  

What Are the Different Types of Cataracts?

The type of cataracts that the general public is most familiar with are cataracts that are most apparent when a patient advanced in age. There isn’t a known way to prevent these types of cataracts as they are just par for the course when it comes to aging. Then there are other kinds of cataracts that are both avoidable and the type that people are actually born with. 

The good news about there being different types of cataracts is that some are largely benign. Children who are diagnosed with cataracts at an early age generally have no issues with their eyesight. They may not be restricted from any types of activity or have to wear protective gear that will shield the eyes from strong light. Cataracts can also become apparent after a patient suffers from other eye related issues. Some types of eye-related injuries and trauma may also lead to the development of and diagnosis of cataracts. In short, there are many ways that cataracts develop and there are multiple types of cataracts.

The Initial Cataract Diagnosis

While a primary care physician might believe that a patient has cataracts just based on physical observations, a referral to an ophthalmologist is needed to be positively diagnosed. During routine eye exams, ophthalmologists use specialized equipment to both examine and test patients’ eyes. If it is determined that cataracts are present, the patient gets a positive diagnosis as well as information on potential treatments. While it is recommended that you act as soon as positive to treat cataracts, you can still take time to decide what will work best for you. If you have a congenital cataract, no surgery may be necessary. Additionally, all cataracts don’t immediately cause visual impairments. So, your doctors might elect to keep an eye on things rather than immediately scheduling removal surgery.

Coping When You Learn You Have Cataracts

Since cataracts are associated with advanced age and visual impairment, learning that you have them can feel like quite a shock. There are different types of cataracts and they can be caused by all sorts of things. A middle-aged woman can develop them due to being exposed to radioactive materials. A healthy baby boy could be diagnosed with cataracts at birth and have no trouble seeing for the duration of his life. The best way to cope with learning that you have cataracts is to just heed your doctor’s orders. You might not be able to drive at night, but you could also find that your life is totally the same. 

Having cataracts can be like any other kind of minor medical illness. It is not a terminal disease and you don’t have to stop living. There are politicians and celebrities who have cataracts. Some have detailed their experiences, giving people a better idea of how the disorder really impacts people. You might have even seen someone leaving the ophthalmologist after having cataract removal surgery or coming in for a post-operative appointment after having them removed successfully.

Living with Cataracts

There may be some people who decide to deal with their cataracts and opt not to have recommended treatments. For example, someone who is at an advanced age may have other health issues that take precedence. Others who are not currently experiencing symptoms won’t need to adjust their lifestyles, and this makes living with cataracts a lot easier. For the most part, if your cataracts aren’t causing changes to your eyesight, you can just live with them like normal. Cataracts that aren’t advanced cannot be detected by anyone except for a trained ophthalmologist. You would be able to keep working and performing normal activities around the home. As long as you have no reason to be concerned about losing your vision, you can live with cataracts

Reviewing Cataract Treatment Options

Typically, cataracts which are advanced and diminishing a patient’s eyesight have to be surgically removed. Surgery can be performed in at the ophthalmologist office as a day procedure in the vast majority of cases. At the same time, you should realize that surgery is not often the first step for ophthalmologists. Sufferers can try out various treatments that will help to improve eyesight through use of magnifying devices or even eyeglasses. Sometimes shield eyes from strong light sources can be helpful as well. You might already be familiar with seeing cataract sufferers wearing thick black sunglasses that wrap completely around the face. They are designed to keep sunlight to a minimum.

Patients often wonder can cataracts return after surgery. The short answer is yes. A more detailed and thorough answer is that it just depends. If you go to your eye doctor as scheduled, you can avoid complications by utilizing whatever treatments are recommended.

Recovering After a Cataract Medical Treatment

When cataracts are removed, the patient can expect to feel some minor and lingering discomfort. She or he will absolutely need to be driven to and from the medical facility where the procedure is to take place and spend the next week or so indoors and recuperating most of the time. It is very important to shield the eyes from light and potential trauma immediately after a cataract removal procedure. Your doctor will most likely tell you to avoid bending or putting any kind of pressure on your eyes. 

Although you will be able to move around indoors rather freely, you should be careful and have someone around to help you whenever possible. While going outside, always wear sun blocking sunglasses. Your eyes will not only be sensitive to light; they will also be at a critical point in the healing process. During this time, you really want to avoid injury as your vision could be damaged permanently if you are not careful. After several days to a week, you will be pretty much totally recovered. Your ophthalmologist will want to see you for a post-operative exam to check your vision and see how you are feeling.

All in all, having cataracts is not the end of the world. Being diagnosed with cataracts can happen at any age. It doesn't have to change your visual acuity, but even if it does there are many types of treatment available. What you can do to help yourself is to go to your ophthalmologist regularly. And if you don’t have one, find one as soon as possible. 

Neglecting any part of your health can always lead to major complications in years to come. So, seeing an eye doctor once a year can help to ensure that you don’t lose your vision due to having cataracts, allowing you to live your life freely without being hampered at all. There are many millions of people in the United States who have and are living with cataracts. Some people you will be able to tell have cataracts by simply looking at their eyes, and others would have to tell you that they have them.




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