A cataract is the compromise in clarity of the crystalline lens. The crystalline lens is positioned behind the iris and most often is difficult to view with the naked eye.
The 3 most common forms of cataracts: 1) nuclear 2) cortical 3) sub-capsular. These 3 common forms are named based of the location in the lens in which they form. Cataracts can also be named or characterized based on what caused them, what they are made of and even at what time of life they occurred.
If you think of the crystalline lens as a house window, depending on where the cataract forms and depending on where you’re trying to look out determines how clear the view is. Cataracts that form in the center of the lens tend to be more detrimental to visual acuity, others that form more in the periphery of the lens do not compromise vision as significantly.
Many factors determine the type and severity of the cataract. Some of the factors include, genetics, health, nutrition, diabetes, sunlight, trauma, smoking and age.
Anatomically, the clarity of the lens is dependent on the regular organization of the cells and proteins in the lens. The factors listed above disrupt the cellular organization of the cells which cause fluctuations of how the cells are organized. When the cells are unorganized, damage occurs and the lens becomes discolored. This discoloration is what is referred to as cataracts. The lens has limited means of repairing itself and most often the cataract cannot be reversed.
The solution, however, most often is to remove the lens containing the cataract and put a new, clear one in its place. The methods for cataract surgery have progressed substantially over the past 10-15 years. The incision is small and the recovery period is relatively short. If you have a refractive status (nearsighted, farsighted or astigmatism) the prescription can be placed in the new lens. This is a nice added benefit because most often, glasses won’t be needed to see clearly in the distance after cataract surgery.
Cataracts are a normal aging process and everyone gets them to some extent. Just because you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts, doesn’t mean that surgical intervention is warranted. Sometimes a person knows that cataract surgery is needed due to poor visual acuity, other times the change happens slowly enough to where it is difficult to notice. In either case, it is important to discuss any questions you have with your eye care provider.