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What are Cataracts?
A cataract is a clouding of your eye’s lens that ultimately affects your vision. It occurs when crystallin proteins in your eye break down and start clumping together. This can happen in one or both eyes, but it doesn’t spread from one to the other. Symptoms may vary but generally include the following:
- Blurry or double vision
- Glare or halo around lights
- Faded color vision
- Poor night vision
- Frequently changing eyewear prescription
There are three types of cataracts:
- Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts: This occurs when the central nucleus zone of the lens gradually hardens and yellows. It’s the most common type of cataract.
- Cortical Cataracts: This occurs when the cataract forms in the cortex shell and moves to the center of the lens. This type of cataract is most common among diabetics.
- Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts: This occurs when the cataract forms as a small cloudy area on the posterior (back) surface of the lens.
If you or someone you know has a cataract, don’t worry. Cataracts are not uncommon. In fact, by the age of 80, more than half of Americans either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. There are treatment options available to slow the progression of a cataract formation and ultimately cure cataracts.
What Causes Cataracts?
There are various factors that can cause cataracts. While some cataracts come on as a result of health conditions like diabetes and eye diseases — or follow eye injuries, an eye surgery, or sun damage — most cataracts happen with age. Cataracts can also be hereditary. Ultimately, any factor that changes your eye lens’ tissue makeup can cause cataracts.
Regardless of how cataracts develop, you may not notice cataracts at first. However, over time, they may significantly impair your vision and affect your day-to-day activities, even despite a healthy eye care routine.
Cataract Treatment: Can Eye Drops Treat Cataracts?
Eye drops have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cataracts. That said, 2015 research discovered a molecule that can actually bind and re-solubilize misfolded proteins in the eye. Scientists believe that, in an eye drop, this solution could slow the progression of cataracts and even reverse early-stage, age-induced cataracts.
Until that research comes to fruition, however, eye drops may only be used to fight infections and irritation following cataract surgery. To date, surgery is the only way to cure cataracts.
Nevertheless, there are some general eye care and lifestyle changes you can make to slow the progression of cataracts:
- Avoid or quit substances like tobacco
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
- Protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation with sunglasses and/or hats
- Eat a healthy diet rich in nutrients and antioxidants
- Take vitamins to supplement your diet
- Avoid activities that cause eye strain
- Get regular eye exams to ensure appropriate prescriptions that promote eye health
When is Cataract Surgery Necessary?
A cataract can cause lasting, detrimental damage to your natural lens. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to total blindness and critically impact your lifestyle. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness.
Cataract surgery may be necessary if your cataracts are worsening to the point of severe vision impairment. An eye care routine can help to minimize your symptoms, but you cannot get rid of cataracts on your own or reverse the protein aggregation. While new, more accessible, and affordable treatments are underway, cataract surgery is currently the only way to cure cataracts. Not everyone will walk away from surgery with perfect vision, but it can drastically improve your condition.