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Cataracts

  • Clouding of the eye lens, which is normally clear
  • Symptoms include blurry vision, difficulty with glare, double vision, seeing a halo around lights
  • Treatment includes outpatient cataract surgery (removing cloudy lens and replacing with implant)
  • Involves ophthalmology

Overview

If you are nervous about cataract surgery, it may help to know how common the condition is. More than half of all Americans will have a cataract by the time they turn 80, and cataract surgery is one of the safest surgeries you can have. 

"Normally people are born with a clear lens that focuses light to the back of the eye,” says Jessica H. Chow, MD, a physician with Yale Medicine Ophthalmology. “But over time, the lens can develop a cloudiness that impairs vision.”  

Yale Medicine ophthalmologists provide the latest, small-incision, no-stitch cataract surgeries to maximize both vision and recovery time. 

Who is most likely to get cataracts?

Cataracts are usually related to the aging process. Inside the eye a natural lens focuses rays of light as they pass through to the retina creating clear images of objects at various distances. The lens is made up of mostly water and protein. In many people, and for reasons that are not completely known, these proteins begin to clump together, causing cloudy patches to form in the lens. The process generally starts when people turn 50; occasionally, babies are born with cataracts, or cataracts develop during childhood.

What are the risk factors for cataracts?

The common risk factors for cataracts are age, sun or radiation exposure, and trauma. Some medications, including steroids, can also cause cataracts.

“Some people who are treated for cancer with newer medications such as monoclonal antibodies appear to be at risk of developing cataracts,” says Dr. Chow. 

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Blurry vision, difficulty with glare when looking at light--especially at night—and double vision are common symptoms of cataracts. A halo may appear around lights. Also, because cataracts can become yellow or brown over time, they can distort your perception of color. Some people with cataracts report that colors appear to be faded and less bright.

How are cataracts diagnosed?

Cataracts are diagnosed in a routine eye exam, along with standard vision tests. Because the lens sits directly behind the pupil, the only way for a ophthalmologist to visualize the lens is to dilate (widen) the pupils with eye drops and then use a slit-lamp biomicroscope (a high-power light source attached to a microscope) to examine the eye. If a cataract is present, it will be visible to the ophthalmologist.

How are cataracts treated?

Not all cataracts require treatment. For some people, the cataract does not interfere with activities such as reading or driving, and does not need to be removed. Using brighter light and magnifying lenses and wearing anti-glare glasses can help people with early cataracts to see better. However, most cataracts, especially if the ones that are age-related, do continue to progress if untreated.

If you have visual symptoms that are interfering with daily life, the cataract should be treated surgically. During cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an intraocular lens implant. The operation is performed on an outpatient basis, and you will be awake but lightly sedated.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

The risks associated with cataract surgery include infection, swelling of the cornea or retina and detachment of the retina, although these are all very unlikely. The overall risk combined is very low.

“Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed and most successful surgical procedures," says Dr. Chow.

What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to cataract surgery unique?

At Yale Medicine, general ophthalmologists and subspecialists are available to provide complete medical and surgical eye care for people who need simple cataract surgery as well as those whose cataracts are part of a more complex condition. 

Yale Medicine eye specialists perform same-day surgery in a caring and convenient outpatient surgical center with state-of-the art diagnostic tools to provide the most comprehensive care while making your experience as convenient as possible.