What is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens in the eye that causes blurred vision. Most cataracts are associated with aging and is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40 and the leading cause of blindness in the world. A cataract can occur in either or both eyes and cannot spread from one eye to the other.

What is the lens?

The lens is a clear part of the eye that helps to focus light, or an image, on the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina. Once it reaches the retina, light is changed into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred.

What causes cataracts?

The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and allows light to pass through. As we age, some of the protein clumps together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, opacifying the lens further. Another way a cataract can form is via trauma; however, it is much less likely.

How can cataracts affect my vision?

Cataracts can affect your vision in two ways--sharpness and color. As clumps of protein gather in your lens your vision will reduce in sharpness. At the beginning or when the cataract is “small”, the cloudiness affects only a small part of the lens. Vision is lost gradually as the cataract “grows”, meaning that the clumps of protein have now obstructed your vision and continue to do so. Vision becomes duller and/or blurrier. Next, the clumps of proteins gather and slowly change the color of the lens to a yellowish/brownish color, adding a brownish tint to vision. Just like the blurring of vision, it is not instantaneous but rather a gradual increase in tint. This tint may make it more difficult to read and perform other routine activities. Tinting does not affect the sharpness of the image transmitted to the retina. In advanced lens discoloration, you may not be able to distinguish blues and purples. If this is the case, please feel free to call our office and set up a consultation so that we can improve your vision to enjoy a fuller life.

When are you most likely to have a cataract?

Cataracts develop based on protein development in the lens, thus the term “age-related” can be a little misleading. People in their 40s and 50s can have cataracts, it just means the protein clumps obscured their vision quicker. However, most cataracts for middle-aged people do not affect vision. For cataracts 60 becomes the magic number when it begins to take enough vision that surgery is required.

Who is at risk for cataracts?

Risk increases with age. Factors that affect the risk include: certain diseases, personal behavior, and the environment. Please call our office for an evaluation so that we can give you information catered to you and your lifestyle.

What can I do to protect my vision?

Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants. If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataract, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.

What are the symptoms of a cataract?

  • Cloudy/blurred vision
  • Colors seem faded
  • Glare - headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright and/or a halo may appear around lights
  • Poor night vision
  • Double vision or multiple images in one eye
  • Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses

Please note that these symptoms can be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms please check with your eye care professional or give us a call at (713) 864-8652 and we will make sure you get seen and evaluated properly.

How is a cataract detected?

  • A comprehensive or complete eye exam:
  • Visual acuity test - This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
  • Dilated eye exam -- Drops are placed in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupils. Using a special magnifying lens, your doctor can examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.

Other tests may be performed based on what the doctor sees fit. These other tests typically inform the doctor about the structure and health of your eye.

How is a cataract treated?

Early cataracts can often times be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. Glasses and sunglasses are available in our Optical for your convenience.
A cataract needs to be removed only when vision loss interferes with everyday activities. Once you understand the benefits and risks of surgery, you can make an educated decision about whether cataract surgery is right for you. In many cases, delaying cataract surgery will not affect your eye; however, as the cataract progresses the surgery will be more difficult to perform. We understand that the decision to have cataract surgery is a big financial decision. We welcome you to our office so that we may educate you on the important decision you have and to offer finances options.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

  • Infection
  • Swelling of the Retina
  • Corneal swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Retinal detachment

Is cataract surgery effective?

Cataract surgery is the most common procedure in America. It has been perfected over the years because surgeons perform so many. The results are noticeable the next day and continue to improve over the course of the next few weeks.

What happens before surgery?

You will need to see your ophthalmologist for a complete, dilated exam and also to take measurements of the eye before surgery can be scheduled. If you have any heart conditions and/or are diabetic, you may need to get clearance from your cardiologist or primary care physician before having the surgery. In addition, you will be asked to use an antibiotic eye drop prior to surgery to prevent infections in the eye.

What happens during surgery?

The surgery will be an outpatient procedure. Your eye will be numbed during the surgery, but you will be awake. The surgeon will break apart the cataract in the eye and remove it in pieces. Then, he/she will insert an intraocular lens specifically chosen for your eye into your eye. Afterwards, your eye will be patched until the next morning's post-op appointment.

What happens after surgery?

You will need to come to the office the day after surgery to check on how the eye is doing. You will be asked to use eyedrops that prevent infection and prevent inflammation in the eye. For one week, you will be instructed not to drive, shampoo your hair, or cook. For the next three weeks, you will be asked to not bend over, lift more than 10 pounds, or do any heavy exercise. In addition, you will be asked to wear a patch over your eye for the next three weeks whenever you sleep to prevent any harm from coming to your eye.

Can problems develop after surgery?

Yes. Lens dislocation can occur most of the time caused by trauma. Film can grow over the implant lens, which can be easily be corrected by a laser procedure that takes about a minute to do. Inflammation of the eye may rebound.

When will my vision be normal again?

We consider the vision stable at roughly 3 weeks. At that point, we will check your vision for glasses if needed.

What can I do if I already have lost some vision from a cataract?

Consult your ophthalmologist to see if the vision loss is significant enough to require surgery.

DISCLAIMER - At Northwest Eye Associates we regard patient education just as important as diagnosis; therefore, we have provided answers to many questions you may have. Please note that this information serves to educate patients on common conditions, NOT to diagnose them. Please consult with your eye care physician for specific answers as he or she will know what is best for your eye. Come see us at Northwest Eye Associates to receive your evaluation today! - 713-864-8652
1740 W27th Street, Suite 180
Houston, Texas 77008