Dear Dr. Garner,
I am 75 years old and in very good health. I have one problem with which I hope you can help me.
For about the past six months, I have had a lot of trouble reading, particularly when the room is not well lit. I can’t drive the car at night as I get a bad glare from oncoming cars. It is beginning to affect my lifestyle.
A friend thinks it could be cataracts. What do you think?
Seeing Foggy in Forest Hills
Dear Seeing Foggy,
From your description, I am also concerned that you have cataracts. A cataract occurs when the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy. It’s like looking through a frosty window.
The cataract grows slowly and the person doesn’t notice the changes at first. As it progresses, decreased vision occurs. The patient can usually overcome poor vision by increasing light or eyeglass strength. There comes a time, however, when the increased light and strength of the eyeglasses are not enough to improve one’s vision well enough to carry on daily activities.
The good news is that the treatment of cataracts is safe and effective, and usually done as an outpatient.
For those readers out there who feel they have cataracts, the following symptoms may be present:
- blurred vision
- difficult night vision
- fading of colors
- frequent changes in eyeglass prescription
- seeing halos around lights
- sensitivity to light and glare
Cataracts occur as a result of aging or injury that changes the tissue that makes up the lens of the eye. Some cataracts are inherited, and others just occur for reasons that we never discover. Some people are actually born with cataracts.
There are factors that can increase your chances of developing a cataract. These include:
- increasing age
- drinking alcohol excessively
- family history of cataracts
- long-time steroid use
- exposure to excessive X-rays
- high blood pressure
- previous eye injury/surgery
The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery. It is necessary to partner with your eye doctor to determine if and when you should have surgery.
Most eye doctors will suggest cataract surgery when your cataracts begin to affect the quality of your life, or interfere with normal activities. It sounds to me that this is your situation. The cataract itself does not harm the eye, so there is no rush to remove it. As soon as the surgery is performed, you will notice a dramatic change in your vision.
The cataract surgery basically involves removing the abnormal lens, which is cloudy, and replacing it with a plastic lens, which is clear. The surgery is usually done on one eye at a time and a few weeks apart. Your eye doctor will use local anesthesia to numb the area around the eye, and you will stay awake throughout the surgery. The main risk is bleeding and infection. However, this is rare.
While awaiting cataract surgery I suggest limiting nighttime driving, improving the lighting in your home and assuring that your eyeglasses have the most accurate prescription possible. This will allow better functioning while awaiting the surgery.
I’m often asked if there is any way to prevent cataracts. The following may help:
- Quit smoking.
- Wear sunglasses.
- If you have diabetes or other medical conditions, make sure that these are well controlled.
- Maintain a healthy weight and a well-balanced diet.
In summary, the symptoms you describe point to cataracts as a cause of your problems. Naturally, this must be re-confirmed with your doctor. If this is the case, then it is possible that with simple surgery you will regain the vision you once had and resume your regular activities.
Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET-TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97 and Cablevision Channel 30.