Research by the National Eye Institute (NEI) has found that more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts. That’s a huge number given the United States Census projects that 1-in-4 Americans will be above the age of 65 by 2060. We spoke with Jillian Colson, MD, an ophthalmologist with Banner - University Medicine Ophthalmology Clinic in Tucson, Arizona, to help take some of the stress out of the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts.
According to Dr. Colson, a cataract forms when the lens of the eye, once clear, becomes cloudy. “Cataract formation is often part of the natural aging process of the lens,” explained Dr. Colson. While there’s no evidence that poor eye care, like sleeping in contacts, will cause cataracts, “factors such as diabetes, steroid use, trauma, and genetics can play a role.”
Cataracts most commonly affect older adults, but some infants are born with the condition and it’s possible for children to develop them at a young age. Childhood cataracts can be broken into two types: congenital cataracts, those present when a baby is born or shortly afterward, or juvenile cataracts, those diagnosed in older babies or children. In both cases of childhood cataracts, early intervention is key to preventing eyesight problems in the long term. If not dealt with early on, childhood cataracts can lead to conditions and the inability to fix a gaze upon objects and amblyopia.
What treatments are available to me?
Adult cataracts tend to develop slowly, meaning it’s possible for cataracts to be present on the eye but not cause any noticeable changes in vision. “Patients may start to develop the first signs around age 40 or 50 but not need surgery until their 60s or beyond,” said Dr. Colson.
Once cataracts cause a significant decline in vision, whether in adults or children, the only way to treat them is to have them removed surgically. But, according to Dr. Colson, there’s no need to stress about cataract surgery. “Everyone who lives long enough will need cataract surgery,” Dr. Colson explained. “The surgery is an outpatient procedure and the cataract can be removed through an incision less than 2.5 mm wide.”
Numerous other conditions besides cataracts can also cause a decline in vision, so it is important to complete a comprehensive dilated exam to rule out all potential causes. If you think you may have decreased vision, schedule an appointment with a Banner Health ophthalmologist.