Cataracts are a common eye condition that is common in elderly people, but for some people the condition can appear much sooner

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Summit Medical Center

  • Have you noticed that your vision appear cloudy or blurry lately?
  • Have you experienced a brownish shade in your vision?

Cataracts include these and other symptoms, and are common in older people. The National Eye Institute reports that more than half of all Americans have a cataract or have had cataract surgery by the age of 80.

But the elderly aren’t the only people at risk for developing cataracts. Many people can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s, the Eye Institute reports.

Summit Medical Center has partnered with Dr. Jason Mayer from the Eye Center of Northern Colorado to perform cataract surgeries here at the hospital. We sat down with him to find out a little bit more about this common, yet often misunderstood eye condition.

Summit Medical Center: What is a cataract?
Dr. Mayer: A cataract is clouding of the eye’s natural lens.

Summit Medical Center: What causes cataracts and how are they detected?
Dr. Mayer: A cataract can be the result of trauma, or will naturally present themselves in all adults who have enough birthdays. As adults age, the lens begins to harden, and slowly get “foggy.” This process progresses at different rates depending on the individual, but there are factors that can increase the development of a cataract including smoking, direct sunlight, and use of steroid medications. Cataracts are typically first noticed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist during a dilated exam. The development is monitored and measured until it begins to impact a person’s vision and lifestyle and is deemed ready for surgical.

Summit Medical Center: What are the symptoms?
Dr. Mayer: A person with cataracts may notice that everything around them doesn’t appear as sharp, and it may appear as if they are looking through a frosted window. “Star-bursting” of lights is another common complaint. This glare is most commonly noticed with night driving and oncoming headlights.

Summit Medical Center: How do cataracts affect the vision?
Dr. Mayer: Cataracts typically develop slowly. A person may not notice the gradual dulling of the world around them, so we recommend annual eye exams once a cataract is first detected.

Summit Medical Center: Who is at most risk for cataracts?
Dr. Mayer: Everyone who lives long enough will develop cataracts. Smokers, people who do not wear sunglasses, and people who use are on steroid medications are more likely to develop cataracts earlier in their lives.

Summit Medical Center: What are the treatment options and risks?
Dr. Mayer: The treatment for a cataract is the surgical removal of the natural lens in the eye. During that procedure, we replace the natural lens with an artificial implant. These implants can correct nearsightedness and farsightedness. There are also premium lens options that can correct astigmatism or provide a multifocal range of vision for both distance and near. Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed procedure in the world, but all surgeries have risks. To learn more about the risks of cataract surgery, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cataract-surgery/about/pac-20384765

Summit Medical Center: What happens if you leave a cataract untreated?
Dr. Mayer: A cataract will continue to develop, and can eventually impair vision to the point of blindness.

Summit Medical Center: Who is a candidate for cataract surgery and who is not?
Dr. Mayer: You’re are an ideal candidate for surgery when your cataracts are impacting your lifestyle and your daily activities, and they are far enough progressed that the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks.

One example of a lifestyle impact is having a lot of glare around lights, especially at night while driving. Reading is another daily activity that can be impacted by cataracts.

Another issue that cataract surgery can help with is getting the proper treatment of retina issues. If you have a problem with your retina, a cataract may make it hard for the doctor to see, and treat. Your doctor may want to remove the cataract to be able to see and treat your retina as best as he or she can.

Summit Medical Center: What is performed during this surgery?
Dr. Mayer: The surgery takes place in an operating room and the patient is given IV sedation. The cataract is removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens. The replacement lens is selected to give the patient good vision either at distance or near and in some cases, to minimize the future need for glasses.

Summit Medical Center: What are the risks?
Dr. Mayer: Risks of the surgery include infection which is rare but still occurs around 1 in 1000 patients, as well as complications during surgery which may require further surgery and have lead to decreased vision and even loss of vision but these are also very rare.

Summit Medical Center: What’s the recovery like after surgery? Will vision be normal again?
Dr. Mayer: For the first week after surgery, we recommend avoiding strenuous activity, bending your head below your waist, and lifting more than 20-30 lbs. Resuming normal activities can happen after a post op visit when the doctor gives the all clear.

Summit Medical Center: What else would you want potential patients to know about cataracts and cataract surgery?
Dr. Mayer: No matter what replacement lens you and your doctor decide on, glasses can almost always help improve the vision as eyes come in a variety shapes and sizes but the replacement lenses only come in certain powers. Discussing realistic expectations with your doctor is very important for building trust and making the process an enjoyable one.

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