Cataracts 101: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

Cataracts are an eye condition common among older adults, affecting more than half of all individuals 80 and older. A cataract develops when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, resulting in frosted or foggy vision. 

In their earliest stages, cataracts may not radically affect your vision. As they progress, however, they can make it more difficult to drive, read, and perform other daily activities.

In many cases, cataracts are caused by the oxidative stress we’re exposed to as a result of everyday life. Factors such as exposure to chemicals and the sun’s radiation can influence a person’s risk for developing cataracts. So can smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Other possible causes include diabetes, long-term use of steroids, and radiation therapy.

No matter their underlying cause, here’s what you should know about cataracts and how they’re treated.

Symptoms of Cataracts

Nearly all cataract symptoms are related to vision changes. You may notice blurry or foggy vision, as well as difficulty seeing at night. Take note if colors start to take on a different appearance, too. 

Other possible vision changes include a halo or glare around bright lights, especially when there’s contrast between light and dark (such as during night driving). In some cases, double vision and prescription changes can also occur. People developing cataracts often complain of increased sensitivity to light, including both UV light and bright indoor lighting. They may also simultaneously require brighter light to see, such as for reading.

How Cataracts Are Diagnosed

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eye care professionals can diagnose cataracts during a comprehensive eye exam. To get a detailed look at the eye, they may dilate the pupils using special eye drops, or implement one of the following other tests to identify cataracts and assess overall eye health.

Slit Lamp Exam

In this process, eye doctors use a slit lamp, which produces high-intensity light, in combination with a low-powered microscope to look at the eyes. The lamp has several filters which can provide different views of the whole eye, including the lens, which is where the cloudy film of a cataract develops.

Retinal Eye Exam

Once the eye is dilated with drops, the pupils will be wide enough to provide a view of the back of the eye. Your eye doctor can then use a special instrument known as an ophthalmoscope to see signs of cataracts.

Refraction & Visual Acuity Test

Using a tool called a phoropter, your eye doctor will ask you to look through different lenses to read an eye chart placed a certain distance away. This will help determine whether your prescription has changed or if you’re experiencing blurry vision.

Cataract Treatment Options

In their earliest stages, you may be able to manage the symptoms of cataracts by using brighter lights, wearing glare-blocking sunglasses, or having your prescription strengthened. 

Ultimately, however, cataract surgery is the only treatment that will reverse effects. In this procedure, the doctor replaces the clouded lens with an artificial one to help you see clearly again.

Thanks to advancements in technology, eye doctors are now able to provide a premium intraocular lens (IOL) during cataract surgery to minimize the need for glasses or contacts, correct astigmatism, and achieve better outcomes than traditional monofocal lenses. Find out more about our approach to this innovative treatment here, or schedule a consult by calling (404) 351-2220.