Once you reach bifocal age, your risk for certain age-related eye problems increases — including your risk for cataracts.
A cataract occurs when the normally clear crystalline lens inside the eye becomes cloudy. This clouding appears to be associated with protein changes within the lens. No one knows for sure why cataracts occur, but risk factors include a poor diet, overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, cigarette smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
Most cataracts are the age-related variety and affect people over age 50. But there are other types of cataracts that can occur in younger people, including cataracts that develop as a side effect of diabetes and other health conditions, or as a complication from prolonged use of steroid medications. So-called "traumatic cataracts" can occur after an eye or head injury. And cataracts can even be congenital, affecting newborn infants.
Cataracts can progress very slowly over time or they can worsen rapidly. Early cataracts usually are detected during a comprehensive eye exam, often before visual symptoms develop. Symptoms of cataracts include hazy or cloudy vision, glare (especially when driving at night), and reduced vibrancy of colors.
When these symptoms become bothersome, it's time for cataract surgery. In most cases, vision loss from cataracts can be fully restored by cataract removal and replacement of the cloudy lens with a man-made intraocular lens (IOL).
In the first step of cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is broken into small pieces with an ultrasonic probe in a process called phacoemulsification. The cloudy lens pieces are then gently removed from the eye with suction.
Next, the cataract surgeon implants a clear IOL in the eye to replace the natural lens and restore vision. IOLs come in different powers, and the surgeon chooses a lens power to correct any nearsightedness or farsightedness that a person had prior to surgery. A special intraocular lens called a toric IOL can be used to correct astigmatism as well. Other premium IOLs include multifocal IOLs and accommodating IOLs (such as Crystalens) designed to correct presbyopia and lessen the need for bifocals or reading glasses after a cataract operation.
To avoid significant vision loss from cataracts, it's a good idea to have routine eye exams. If cataracts occur and your vision is beginning to be affected, your eye doctor can refer you to a cataract surgeon to perform the procedure before your vision becomes dangerously blurred.
The success rate of modern cataract surgery is very high and cataract surgery is one of the most frequently performed surgical procedures in America. For the best possible outcome, be sure to follow your eye surgeon's advice before, during and after your cataract operation.