4 Min Read
What to Expect When a Loved One Has Cataracts
Cataracts are one of the most common medical conditions to affect adults over the age of 60. In fact, over 50 percent of adults age 80 and older have a cataract or have had surgery to remove cataracts. While you can likely accommodate the symptoms of cataracts for several years, surgery is the only method that can effectively remove cataracts.
Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the safest procedures, almost becoming a right of passage into your golden years. For many experiencing the symptoms of cataracts or caring for a loved one with cataracts, you may wonder what to expect and how to care for your loved one with cataracts. They usually don’t cause pain, but new, unusual sensitivity to light can be a signal that you may be developing a cataract.
Understanding cataracts is critical to knowing the next step to take when you feel discomfort or changes to your vision. Aging is the most common cause of cataracts because they are caused when the normal proteins in the lens break down. As the proteins collect into clusters, your vision becomes cloudy. Many adults begin to get cataracts around age 40, but the symptoms such as light sensitivity can be so mild that they may not realize they have cataracts until closer to age 60. This is why The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having your eyes checked by an ophthalmologist every two years after the age of 60, and at least every year if you have had a diagnosis of cataracts.
Causes of Cataracts
- Exposure to sunlight without sunglasses or a hat for protection from the sun
- Past eye injury, surgery, or radiation treatments to your upper body
- A family history of cataracts
- Medical conditions like diabetes or medications such as corticosteroids
Symptoms of Cataracts
- Blurry or double vision, or trouble seeing bright colors
- Extra sensitivity to light, glare, or seeing a “halo” around lights
- Needing more light to read and having difficulty seeing well at night
If you have had a diagnosis of cataracts, but you would like to see if you can live with the symptoms and make accommodations, consider the following suggestions:
Alternatives to Surgery for Cataracts
- Use brighter lights, a magnifying glass for reading, or get a new prescription from your optometrist
- Don’t drive at night or during stormy weather conditions
- Minimize glare with adjustable blinds and shades
- Maintain a healthy diet and weight
- Stop smoking if you smoke because it is a key risk factor for cataracts
If you reach a point where it becomes too difficult to complete your regular activities, you may want to strongly consider cataract surgery. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist to learn what recommendations they can share, given your concerns.
Treatment for Cataracts
Phacoemulsification cataract surgery is the most common procedure for removal of cataracts. With a laser or ultrasound, the ophthalmologist will break the clouded lens into pieces. After suctioning the fragments out, the doctor will insert a new plastic lens into the eye. In rare instances, extracapsular cataract surgery may be performed.
Make sure you bring someone to drive you home from surgery. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic eyedrops. You will probably need to use eye drops for a few weeks after surgery. Patients commonly will need to wear a plastic shield over the eye or glasses initially to protect the recovering eye. As you heal, try to avoid touching your eyes, bending over, lifting heavy objects, or engaging in activities in which being poked in the eye is likely.
Within eight weeks of surgery, you should enjoy a full recovery. If you have cataracts in both eyes, your doctor may have you plan your surgeries at least four weeks apart. However, it is becoming more common to perform surgery on both eyes at the same time. Finally, at least nine out of 10 people report seeing better after cataract removal. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”