The Truth about Cataracts
August is Cataract Awareness Month
Some say if we live long enough, most of us will develop a cataract. Yes, that may be true (one in seven people has a cataract). But luckily, cataracts are also one of the most curable causes of vision loss.
Celebrating Cataract Awareness Month, throughout the month of August, Virginia's EyeMDs want to dismiss a few myths about this common problem, and to remind people they don't have to live with vision loss from cataracts.
A cataract is the clouding of the eye's normally clear lens, which blocks the passage of light needed for vision. They form slowly and cause no pain. Some stay small and don't affect vision very much, but if it does become large, thick or affects your vision, it usually can be removed by surgery.
Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness around the world; however in most cases, vision loss from cataracts is reversible. New techniques developed over the past decade have made cataract surgery one of the most successful procedures available in terms of restoring quality of life to patients.
There are no drugs or exercises that will make a cataract disappear, and contrary to popular myth, cataracts are not removed using lasers. Cataract surgery is most often done as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. The patient generally goes home the same day, and because the incision is so small, many patients don't even need stitches. The cloudy natural lens can be replaced with an artificial lens to give the eye proper focusing power. In most cases, the improvement in the patient's vision is profound. For some of them, it really is like a miracle.
So how do you know if you have a cataract? Some people notice a gradual painless blurring of vision, double vision in one eye or fading or yellowing of colors. When older patients mention sensitivity to glare and/or bright light or trouble driving at night, a cataract is suspect. Or, if a patient needs frequent changes to his or her glasses or contact lens prescriptions, they should be evaluated for a cataract.
The Virginia Society of Ophthalmology wants to dispel the notion that a cataract has to be "ripe" before it's removed. That's just not true. The best time to have a cataract removed is when it starts to interfere with the things you like to do.
It's a great procedure, but it's still surgery. For some people, cataracts don't particularly affect their quality of life, so for them it makes sense to put off any cataract surgery until they feel they need it. The only person who can really decide when it's time to have it removed is the patient.