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Today, surgery for the removal of cataracts is a simple, relatively painless procedure that can, in many cases, restore your vision to normal.

Cataracts are classified into three main types:

A subcapsular cataract begins at the back of the lens. People with diabetes, high farsightedness, retinitis pigmentosa or those taking high doses of steroids may develop a subcapsular cataract.

A nuclear cataract is most commonly seen as it forms. This cataract forms in the nucleus, the center of the lens, and is due to natural aging changes.

A cortical cataract, which forms in the lens cortex, gradually extends its spokes from the outside of the lens to the center. Many diabetics develop cortical cataracts.

A cataract starts out with very slight discolorization and at first has little effect on your vision. You may notice that your vision is blurred a little, like looking through a cloudy piece of glass or viewing an impressionist painting.

A cataract may make light from the sun or a lamp seem too bright or glaring. Or you may notice when you drive at night that the oncoming headlights cause more glare than before. Colors may not appear as bright as they once did.

The type of cataract you have will affect exactly which symptoms you experience and how soon they will occur. When a nuclear cataract first develops, it can bring about a temporary improvement in your near vision, called “second sight.” Unfortunately, the improved vision is short-lived and will disappear as the cataract worsens. On the other hand, a subcapsular cataract may not produce any symptoms until it’s well-developed.

If you think you have a cataract, see an your optometrist for an exam to find out for sure.

No one knows for sure why the eye’s lens changes as we age, forming cataracts. Researchers are gradually identifying factors that may cause cataracts — and information that may help to prevent them.

Many studies suggest that exposure to ultraviolet light is associated with cataract development, so eyecare practitioners recommend wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen your exposure.

Other studies suggest people with diabetes are at risk for developing a cataract.

The same goes for users of steroids, diuretics and major tranquilizers, but more studies are needed to distinguish the effect of the disease from the consequences of the drugs themselves.

Some eyecare practitioners believe that a diet high in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium and vitamins C and E, may forestall cataract development. Meanwhile, eating a lot of salt may increase your risk.

Other risk factors include cigarette smoke, air pollution and heavy alcohol consumption.

When symptoms begin to appear, you may be able to improve your vision for a while using new glasses, strong bifocals, magnification, appropriate lighting or other visual aids.

Cataract surgery may be needed when your cataracts have progressed enough to seriously impair your vision and affect your daily life. Many people consider poor vision an inevitable fact of aging, but cataract surgery is a simple, relatively painless procedure to regain vision.

Cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision. In fact, it is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with more than 3 million Americans undergoing cataract surgery each year. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision, somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40.

During surgery, the surgeon will remove your clouded lens and in most cases replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens.

New IOLs are being developed all the time to make the surgery less complicated for surgeons and the lenses more helpful to patients. Presbyopia-correcting IOLs potentially help you see at all distances, not just one.

Common symptoms

  • blurred vision
  • halos around lights
  • poor night vision
  • double vision
  • color that appear ‘washed out’
  • sensitivity to bright light

To reduce your risk

  • avoid UV rays
  • keep diabetes under control
  • limit alcohol consumption
  • cut back on salt intake
  • eat a diet high in antioxidants
  • (vitamins A, C and E) and selenium
  • don’t smoke

Treatment options:

surgery

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