Taking your eyes out of the clouds: detecting and treating cataracts

two senor women riding a moped

Mr. Magoo may have been an endearing source of laughter, but those who suffer from cataracts are not likely to find humor in blurred vision.

Cataracts, often associated with cloudy eyes, represent the most common cause of vision loss among people older than 40. People normally don’t start to notice their symptoms until after age 60. More than 50% of people age 80 and older have had cataracts.1

That said, we do have plenty to be encouraged about. If you or someone you love is showing symptoms of cataracts, you should know the eye condition is highly treatable, with very good success rates.

This article will explore these treatment options, as well as the common symptoms of cataracts. We’ll then dispel a common myth.

Frosty windows to the world

One of the more eloquent descriptions of cataract effects comes courtesy of the Mayo Clinic, which describes having cataracts as “a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window.”2

The technical definition of cataracts is less romantic. It represents the dying cells in the eye’s lens, which, as they accumulate, turn the lens yellow and cloudy.3 This is a natural and unpreventable result of aging. In fact, cataracts develop so slowly they do not disturb eyesight early on.

However, with time they will eventually interfere with vision and many of your everyday pleasures such as reading, taking a drive (especially at night) or seeing the meal a friend had just prepared. This is why early detection is critical.

Detecting the clouds

Because cataracts begin small and then expand, it could be hard to detect vision loss early on. This is why annual eye exams are so important, especially as we approach that road sign that reads “40.” If you have not yet made an eye exam yet, look for these symptoms:

  • Clouded, blurred or dim vision
  • Increasing difficulty with vision at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare, and seeing halos
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Double vision in a single eye1

The long-term effect of cataracts, untreated, is blindness. However, those who seek treatment can pursue life with healthy, normal vision and all the happiness it entails.

Treating cataracts and avoiding risks, myths

In the early stages, cataract-impaired vision can be improved with prescriptive lenses, magnification or even better lighting. Your doctor can advise on all of these options.1

Once the cataracts progress to the point of hampering daily life, you should consider surgery, and take comfort in knowing you are not alone. More than 4 million Americans undergo cataract surgery each year.4

In the meantime, take note of some of these cataract risk factors. Avoiding them can help slow its progression:

  • Ultraviolet radiation (sunlight – wear sunglasses)
  • Smoking
  • Prolonged use of steroids
  • Statin cholesterol medicines
  • Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Significant alcohol consumption2

Along with the risks, let us close by dispelling one myth about cataracts: They cannot be prevented with eye drops. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any such medicine that can cure or delay the eye condition.5

Also, technically, Mr. Magoo was nearsighted.

  1. “Cataracts”, Cleveland Clinic, April 27, 2020, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8589-cataracts.
  2. “Cataracts”, Mayo Clinic, September 2, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790.
  3. “What are Cataracts?” September 13, 2021, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts.
  4. “Future of cataract surgery seems promising”, Ocular Surgery News, February 10, 2021, https://www.healio.com/news/ophthalmology/20210126/future-of-cataract-surgery-seems-promising.
  5. “Facts & Myths About Cataract”, Prevent Blindness, May 2021, https://preventblindness.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/MK08-Cataract-Facts-1.pdf.