Cataracts: Unblurring the Facts
Like every muscle and bone that makes up our body, the eyes are subject to degeneration, especially as we age.
One of the most common, age-related conditions of the eye is cataract formation. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness as half of all blindness cases worldwide are because of cataracts. In Singapore, the cases have steadily risen over the years as the population ages.
Yet given how widespread cataracts are, most know little about the actual condition besides the fact that your vision goes “a little cloudy” and it can be restored. Here are a few facts that can help you identify cataract formation, and catch it early as it develops.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is a degenerative condition of the eye, where the lens gradually cloud over. The lens are transparent, flexible structures in the front of your eye that allows you to focus on objects and form a sharp image of whatever you are looking at. Cataract formation leads to blurring of vision, and when left untreated, may result in vision loss.
The commonest three forms of cataracts are: nuclear sclerotic cataracts, cortical cataracts, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.
Types of cataracts:
Nuclear sclerotic is the most common form of cataract. “Nuclear” refers to the center of the lens, while “sclerotic” refers to the hardening of the lens. It is age-related, meaning that everyone develops nuclear sceloritic cataracts as they age. This type of cataract builds up slowly over time, and can remain unnoticed for many years.
Cortical cataracts start developing around the cortex of the lens, which is the outer layer of the lens. Unlike nuclear sclerotic cataracts, cortical cataracts progress relatively faster. This type of cataract is characterized by spikes of white forming from the edge of the lens towards the center, similar to “spokes” of the bicycle wheels.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts start at the back or “posterior” part of the lens. People with diabetes and patients using steroids or steroids-based medication are likelier to develop posterior subcapsular cataracts than others. These cataracts are also the fastest to progress compared to the other two types — symptoms can worsen over a couple of months.
Why do cataracts form?
Most cataracts form due to aging, or as a reaction to certain types of injuries or diseases, like diabetes. It is generally accepted that the longer you live, the likelier you are to develop a cataract as the lens of the eyes harden and become less clear as we age.
Injuries such as blunt trauma directly to the eye can also affect the tissue of the lens, making one more susceptible to developing a cataract.
How do I know if I have a cataract?
Most cataracts develop slowly, and the majority of those afflicted do not start showing symptoms until they reach their 40s.
Regular visits to your ophthalmologist can help you detect cataracts as they are forming. Early detection is crucial for mediating symptoms, and possibly requiring surgery to correct one’s vision and remove the cataract. Here are some early warning signs that you should look out for:
- Cloudy or blurred areas in your vision: These blurred areas in your vision may appear small and inconsequential in the beginning, but they will not go away on their own. Over time, these areas will grow larger as your cataract worsens, and will impede even basic tasks like getting around or recognizing faces.
- Light sensitivity: Many people have light sensitivity, and photophobia is one of the main triggers for people who get migraines. But when coupled with cloudy vision, sensitivity to light may be a sign of cataract formation. The lens focuses and manages the light that comes into our eyes. Cataracts cause the light to scatter instead and causes our eyes to work harder to adjust to the lighting conditions. This strain can cause cataract-related headaches.
- Bad night vision: Cataracts cause vision to dim and blur. Early-stage cataracts may not show during the daytime, but can be more noticeable at night. Yellow or brown-tinged night vision may be a sign of a developing cataract. Glare and halos of light caused by the diffraction of light through the cataract is also more noticeable at night.
- Improved vision: If you are old-sighted (presbyopia), cataracts might temporarily improve your vision of nearby objects. This happens because of the increased density of the lens nucleus, which focuses light on the retina. However, this “second sight” goes away as the cataract progresses further, affecting both near and distant vision.
How do I get my cataracts removed?
Patients can mediate and slow down the progression by wearing prescription glasses and protecting their eyes from further damage with sunglasses and hats when going outside. But once a cataract has appeared, the only proven method to remove it is through surgery.
The current treatment for cataract is to remove them by surgical means. Rapid advancements in current technology allow cataract operations to be done using very small wounds with early visual recovery, making it safe, fast and effective.
Using advanced diagnostics, our Medical Director Dr Jimmy Lim has a special interest in customizing the different lens fit for your refractive needs.
The empty membrane or “bag” of the cataract is always left intact in the eye, so that an artificial lens can be placed within it. This procedure is known as phacoemulsification and intraocular lens implantation. Most of the surgery is performed using a very small incision wound of less than 3mm in size.
Highly advanced technologies in the fluidics and phacodynamics used in the latest generation phacoemulsification machines make this very effective form of surgery even safer and more rapid.
What are the new technologies for correcting vision?
At JL Eye Specialists, we have the full range of intraocular lens technology available for all your refractive needs. We customize our care and lens technology to cater to your daily needs and your lifestyle.
Today, there are very rapid technological advances in the world of intraocular lens. Current lenses are able to correct most of the refractive errors that we face everyday, such as:
In Singapore, about 30,000 cataract removal surgeries are performed each year. Costs can range from $3,000 to $8,000 SGD, depending on the complexity of the condition, and the seniority of the operating surgeon and the types of implants used. The surgery is a Day Surgery procedure, meaning patients can go home the same day of the surgery. The whole process lasts an average of an hour, but full recovery can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks.
Want to get your eyes checked out for cataract formation, or checking out your options for surgery? Book a consultation with Dr. Jimmy Lim today. At JL Eye Specialists, we customize care and treatment options based on your needs.