A lot of our patients are concerned about the development of cataracts, and no wonder they are—more than 2.5 million Canadians have cataracts. They’re a normal part of the aging process and typically become a concern after the age of 60. They may progress slowly over several years, or develop more quickly over a shorter period of time.
What is a cataract?
Cataracts are white opacities that form on the lenses of our eyes. The term originates from the Latin word cataracta, which means waterfall and metaphorically describes the development of cataracts.
When a cataract develops, it leads to various vision impairments, including blurred vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, dulled colours with yellowed vision, and difficulties with night vision and glare. As a result, you might notice that it’s harder to read or drive at night. You may also experience halos or sensitivity to light, and even have some double vision.
If you think you might have cataracts, you can read more about symptoms and early treatment options here.
What you need to know
Myths prevail about cataracts that can leave you confused about what they are or how they might affect you. Let’s debunk a few of these, so you’ll understand this condition and be better prepared if you begin to notice symptoms.
They don’t only affect the elderly.
While they’re commonly associated with aging and primarily affect individuals over the age of 60, cataracts can in fact affect people of any age. Even babies can be born with congenital cataracts! It’s important to be aware of the symptoms so that you can seek proper attention should you suspect the development of cataracts, no matter your age.
Regular comprehensive eye exams by a trained optometrist at Dr. Sam Dhaliwal and Associates is an excellent way to ensure that the development of cataracts will be identified early. Too often, adults without corrective eyewear neglect booking bi-annual exams, but a comprehensive appointment with us is about more than just how you see. We’ll also make sure that your eyes are in optimal health and can intervene early if we notice any indication of conditions like cataracts. And if you have warning signs, consult your optometrist as soon as possible for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Lifestyle factors can help, but won’t be enough to manage them.
Lifestyle factors have a big impact on our overall health and can help to prevent a myriad of conditions. They can also help to slow the development of cataracts, but don’t be fooled that changing your lifestyle or diet will be enough to cure cataracts.
Early cataract development may be managed with glasses or contacts or even enhanced lighting, but surgery is likely your only option once cataracts begin to interfere with your daily activities. The good news is that cataract surgery has come a long way. Keep reading to find out more.
Surgery isn’t as invasive or risky as it once was.
In the past, cataract surgery required a large incision and involved more risk and poorer visual recovery. Advancements in both techniques and technology have come a long way. Cataract surgery is now one of the most common procedures in Canada, and it’s effective and low-risk.
It’s typically performed under mild sedation and local anesthesia, so you won’t experience discomfort. It’s also relatively fast and can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. Lenses that are affected and cloudy are removed and replaced with new clear lens implants to restore clear distance vision. You may still require reading glasses, but a follow up appointment with your optometrist will allow for any necessary adjustments to your prescription.
They won’t grow back, but you may notice similar symptoms in the future.
Since cataract surgery completely removes your cloudy lens, it’s a myth that cataracts can grow back. Your lens will be replaced with a clear artificial lens implant, so cataracts do not grow back once they are completely removed.
Unfortunately, some people experience a different condition called posterior capsular opacity (PCO) months or years after surgery. This can occur if the surrounding membrane becomes cloudy. Good news though—it’s easily and safely treated with a quick and painless laser procedure.
If you’re feeling concerned or confused about cataracts or cataract surgery, a good place to start is by making an appointment with one of our highly skilled optometrists. We can dispel the myths and help you understand the facts about cataracts, so you can make an informed decision about your eye health.
It’s important to have regular comprehensive eye examinations, especially as you age or if you notice changes in your vision. Under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP), seniors 65 years and older are eligible for one complete eye exam, one partial exam and one diagnostic procedure per benefit year (July 1 to June 30). Remember, early detection and proactive management are key to preserving your vision and maintaining a high quality of life.