Many people have heard the term “cataract.” This is because cataracts account for most of the vision impairment that occurs in this country. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has estimated that approximately one-quarter of adults over the age of 40 are in some stage of cataract development. That statistic is doubled in the 75-and-up age group.
Cataracts form because, as we age, the crystalline lens of the eye begins to turn yellow. This once-flexible structure also becomes increasingly rigid. As a result, vision loses its crispness and color. People with cataracts may struggle to see at night and may feel that their vision becomes blurry over time. It is known that cataracts are a progressive problem; that, at some point, most people with cataracts will need to have them removed. So, does it matter when cataracts are removed or when the signs of this shift in the lens of the eye is caught? It might.
What Early Cataracts Look Like
- Initially, cataracts do not affect the entire field of vision. What usually happens first is that fuzzy spots appear. These start out small and grow larger over time.
- Light sensitivity. Bright lights become increasingly irritating to the eye that has a hardening lens.
- Decreasing night vision. Early stage cataracts can cause visual dimming that is more obvious at night.
- Glare and halos. These visual disturbances may pass through the visual field when light is diffracted by the hardening lens, causing halos around light sources. This is usually more noticeable at night.
Why Early Detection Matters
We know that cataracts only get worse over time and will eventually need to be removed. Cataract removal surgery replaces the natural lens of the eye with a synthetic lens. While treatment is beneficial, there is value in recognizing the early signs of cataracts. Studies suggest that there are a few steps a person can take to slow the progression of changes to the affected lens. These include:
- Eating an eye-healthy diet, which is filled with nuts, leafy greens, citrus fruits, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Protecting the eyes with sunglasses and hats. The ultraviolet radiation in sunlight degrades collagen in the eyes, speeding up the ocular aging process.
- Undergo regular eye exams and discuss current medications with an experienced eye doctor. Some medications can speed up cataract progression. Annual eye exams are the best way to detect and monitor the progression of cataracts.