What are Cataracts?

For people over the age of 60, cataracts are one of the most common reasons for deteriorating vision. But what is it? The lens of your eye is shaped and sized similar to an M&M candy except that it has a clear shell and clear protein material inside the shell when we are born. It is located directly behind your iris which is the colored part of your eye with a central hole called the pupil. As we age, the naturally occurring proteins inside the shell gradually become less flexible and then clump together. This slowly turns normally transparent lenses into cloudy ones, preventing light from properly passing through your eye, thereby creating various vision problems.

Cataracts don’t just pop up overnight. In fact, you may not realize you have cataracts in the early stages as they may not yet affect your lifestyle. However, if left untreated, cataracts can eventually make simple tasks, like reading and driving, more and more difficult to perform.

Symptoms of Cataracts

While aging is a major contributor to the formation of cataracts, other factors include disease, injury, birth defects or even side effects from certain medications. Symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Glare, halos and starbursts with night driving
  • Gradual dulling of colors
  • Vision takes on a yellowish/brownish tint

Cataract surgery is a way to alleviate these symptoms.

blurry photos of a family playing at the beach

Types of Cataracts

Cataracts can occur in one or both of your eyes, and the position of your cataract can affect your vision in different ways. The only way a cataract can be properly diagnosed is with a dilated exam. If your eyes are not dilated, your eye care provider will not have full view of your lens. There are four types of cataracts:

  • Nuclear cataract: Occurring in the center (nucleus) of the lens, this is the most common type of cataract. This cataract may actually improve your reading vision for a short while, but eventually your entire field of vision will succumb to the regular symptoms.
  • Cortical cataract: This cataract often results in white opacities that look like whitish spokes in a wheel that move from the edge to the center of the lens. These cataracts cause light that enters the eye to scatter, causing glare, haze and depth perception problems.
  • Subcapsular cataract: Forming on the posterior (back surface) of the lens, these typically affect reading and can create halo effects that glare around lights. They can develop rapidly, and symptoms can start to surface within months of formation.
  • Congenital cataract: Genetics can cause infants to be born with cataracts and some children can develop them early in life. If they are interfering with vision, surgery may be recommended.