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Q&A with Dr. Mitchell: Blog 6

Q. What are cataracts and when is cataract surgery necessary? 

A. “Cataract” is a medical term that essentially means that our eye’s natural lens is not as clear as it once was. An analogy that I have found to help patients understand the changes is car headlights. Over time, headlight housings on cars begin to turn a yellow color and fog over. You can change the headlight bulb, but it still will not be as bright as it was when the car was new. The severity of cataracts can range from mild, causing no symptoms, to severe causing a significant reduction in vision. Cataracts develop slowly, only affecting a small portion of the lens, and causing little to no issues initially. But as the cataract grows and begins to occupy a larger area of the lens, vision will become affected. Symptoms of cataracts include blurred vision that does not improve with glasses, and an increase in sensitivity to bright lights (glare from headlights being a common complaint). When cataracts become significant enough to affect vision, your doctor may recommend surgery in order to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear, artificial lens implant. This is currently the only treatment that is available for cataracts.  Although there are several things that can cause cataracts to develop, the most common cause is aging of the lens. No studies have been done that show a method for totally preventing the formation of cataracts, however, UV sunlight plays a role in their development. So be sure to wear sunglasses when spending time outside. Unfortunately, cataracts are part of the normal aging process and most people experience them in their lifetime.

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