older man rubbing face from eye strainCommon with age, cataracts occur when the eye’s lens becomes clouded. This change may not be noticeable at first but with time, older adults may find it challenging to read, drive and observe their surroundings.

While certain lifestyle updates can help manage eye changes, many people need outpatient surgery to treat cataracts.

How Do Cataracts Form?

Vision is a three-part process involving the eyes and brain. First, light passes through a clear lens and the iris, located behind the lens, focuses this light and passes images to the retina. The brain is then able to perceive its surroundings.

Cataracts interrupt this process, decreasing the amount of light passing through the lens. This leads to blurry vision or other difficulties with sight. Intensity varies with the cataract location and size.

Adults start to develop these changes around age 40. However, symptoms do not appear significant until one reaches their sixties. Roughly half of people 80 and older live with or have had surgery to correct cataracts.

The condition initially starts in one eye, causing a difference in vision. The other eye may also develop cataracts at a slower rate. Progression includes the following stages:

  • Early: You notice some blurriness or cloudiness and are more sensitive to the glare from lights. Your eye doctor may recommend stronger glasses or anti-glare lenses.
  • Mature: Surroundings can appear white, milky or amber. By this point, the cataract has reached the outer point of the lens and your doctor may recommend surgery.
  • Hypermature: The density and hardness of the cataract start to obstruct your vision, potentially contributing to glaucoma or placing pressure on the eye.

While age often correlates with cataracts, those who have diabetes, previously undergone eye surgery or use steroids have a greater risk for developing this condition.

Types of Cataracts

Although cataracts are primarily considered age-related, there are multiple types:

  • Nuclear Cataracts: You may first experience nearsightedness but soon find that your vision appears yellow or brown due to the changing lens color. An untreated nuclear cataract can develop into a hard, brown-colored formation that affects how you perceive color. In this later stage, surgery comes with more risks.
  • Cortical Cataracts: Proteins composing the cataracts form closer to the edge of the lens, leading to white, streaked elements within your vision.
  • Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts: Proteins form on the back of the lens, obstructing the path of light to the iris and retina. These cataracts cause halos in your vision and affect how you read and perceive bright lights.
  • Anterior Subcapsular Cataracts: Proteins develop on the front part of the eye’s lens, often in response to an injury or atopic dermatitis.
  • Congenital Cataracts: This form relates to genetics or certain conditions, including trauma, an intrauterine infection, myotonic dystrophy, galactosemia, rubella or neurofibromatosis type 2.
  • Secondary Cataracts: This condition develops in response to a pre-existing condition like diabetes or drug treatment. A gray-white diamond pattern may form on the lens.
  • Radiation Cataracts: This condition develops as a result of excessive UV exposure.
  • Post-vitrectomy Cataracts: May develop after a procedure to remove the vitreous from the eye.
  • Polychromatic Cataracts: Also known as “Christmas tree cataracts”, the proteins create colored, glossy crystal formations within the lens.

Signs of Cataracts

As cataracts progress, you may notice a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Cloudy, hazy or dim vision
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Colors appear yellow or hazy
  • Decreased night vision
  • Increased sensitivity to bright lights and glare
  • Difficulty reading or having to use a brighter light
  • Sudden headaches
  • Flashes of light in your vision

People experiencing these symptoms should contact their eye doctor. Waiting can result in more severe vision loss and increase surgery complications.

During surgery, the affected lens will be removed and replaced with an artificial implant shaped to your eye and strong enough for your vision needs.

How to Reduce Your Risk for Cataracts

To help prevent cataracts, start developing the following habits:

  • Schedule regular eye exams to check for vision problems
  • Get health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under control
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables to increase your intake of antioxidants
  • Wear UVB-blocking sunglasses when you go outside
  • Cut down on alcohol consumption
  • Stop smoking

If you notice these signs of cataracts in a loved one, our staff can help manage their care. Contact West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center to learn more about our services.