Whether you wear glasses, contacts, reading glasses, or are blessed with perfect vision, chances are that sooner or later you might have to deal with cataracts. In fact, your risk of developing cataracts increases every year after age 40. Learn what this means for your vision.
By the age of 80, more than half of all adults either have cataracts, or have had surgery to correct them. Cataracts can occur at any age, but are more frequently associated with aging. Cataracts tend to grow slowly, and can affect one or both eyes. Early on, you may notice only mild or occasional blurring, but over time they can continue to grow and seriously affect your vision.
The lens of our eyes lies behind the iris and the pupil, and is made up of water and protein. The lens is what focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where the images we see are recorded. But over time, some of the protein in the lens may stick together and form a cloudy area on the lens – which is what a cataract is. As the proteins continue to clump together and grow, more of your vision will be affected. Typically, the "sharpness" of your vision will be diminished first, and may affect only a part of your vision. But as the cataract grows, more of your vision will be impacted, and it can become increasingly blurrier. Sometimes the clear lens also colors with age, resulting in your vision taking on a brownish shade, or affecting your ability to see blues and purples.
While anyone can get a cataract at any age, smoking, heavy drinking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and those who have had prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight are at higher risk. Also, while cataract development often begins in your 40s or 50s, they don't typically cause vision problems until age 60 or beyond. Still, beginning in your 40s, a regular eye exam is an important part of identifying potential problems and ensuring that you get appropriate treatment when necessary.
Could you have cataracts now? Some common symptoms include:
- Cloudy, blurred, or dim vision
- Poor night vision
- Colors seem faded
- Increased sensitivity to light and glare
- Increased need for brighter light for reading or other close activities
- Seeing halos around lights – particularly with oncoming traffic at night
- Double vision
- Frequent need to change eyeglass or contact lens prescription
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your eye doctor as soon as possible. Fortunately, treatment for cataracts is very effective. While small cataracts can often be managed with new eyeglass prescription, most large cataracts will require surgical removal. Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures performed in the US, as well as one of the safest and most effective. In fact, about 90% of people who undergo cataract removal report a significant improvement in their vision.
As we age, maintaining good vision is critical to living a full and rewarding life. If you find yourself avoiding activities you once enjoyed – from reading books and sewing to fishing and playing tennis – talk to your doctor and see if cataracts could be the culprit. If you don’t have an eye doctor, you can find one here.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.