By: Brian Oulman, OD
Have you ever been driving in the desert, look out at the horizon and a large billowing brown dust storm is moving across the land. Unfortunately, with a certain number of birthday parties, this browning will happen to the lens of your eye. The changing of color or simply a clouding in the lens of your eye is known as cataracts. The lens is located directly behind the Iris (the color portion in your eyeball). An advanced cataract can be noticed by looking at a person and instead of their pupil (the black circle in the eyeball) being black it looks cloudy. Most patients would never get to this stage, especially if they are having their yearly annual eye health exams.
Cataracts can be extremely frustrating and luckily there is a surgical procedure that removes the cloudy lens and is replaced by a clear artificial lens. This is known as cataract surgery and is performed by a surgeon. Removing a cloudy lens creates a brighter and more colorful vision. Patients will always ask if they will need glasses, which is a valid question. The answer is most likely. Every patient is unique and responds differently to the surgery. To help reduce the chances of having to wear glasses the implant lenses have become so advanced that patients can “upgrade” the implant to provide clearer eyesight after surgery. Some patients even select the multifocal implant to ensure they can do everyday tasks without glasses.
So the lens gets cloudy with age and you can have it surgically removed, but what might you notice if you have cataracts. For a majority of patients, their nighttime vision gets worse. Glare tends to be the number one side effect at night with headlights or other light sources. This makes driving uncomfortable and for some scary, to the point where people stop going out at night. One reason for this is at night the pupil gets bigger to let more light in the eye, however, this light has to go through a cloud which scatters the light in the back of the eye, creating increased glare.
Another noticeable issue that patients experience would be needing more light when trying to read or do activities up close. Our pupils will get smaller when we read or do activities up close which will decrease the amount of light into our eye, then whatever light gets in has to go through a cloud further decreasing the amount of light. Thus more light is needed.
There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in diabetic patients with uncontrolled blood sugars. There’s fluid being produced and filtered in the front part of the eye that will contain a certain sugar level. If a patient is experiencing uncontrolled blood sugars, the sugar level in this fluid can rise, the lens will absorb some of the sugar causing the lens to swell. This swelling can cause a change in a patients’ prescription making glasses difficult to use. As the sugar level subsides the lens will begin to return to normal size. Not only can this swelling change the prescription it can cause an early onset of cataracts.
There are many forms of cataracts and most progress slowly taking decades to form. For a majority of patients, cataracts begin in the decade of the ’60s. If you or someone you know has had lifestyle changes due to their vision or if you have heard of the complaints listed above, you may want to have them examined to determine if it is cataracts. Please ensure you and your loved ones have their yearly eye health exam to keep everyone seeing their brightest.