Symptoms of Eye Cataracts - Are You Losing Your Vision?
Introduction to the symptoms of cataracts
This article, the first in a series about cataracts, will discuss not only what cataracts are but common symptoms that point to the possibility of this condition.
I have developed cataracts myself, my mother had them decades ago, and my wife had cataract surgery two years ago. This series of articles is a compilation of extensive research on the subject, my own personal experience, and the experiences of others.
While studying the medical information on the subject is very valuable, I have found that hearing about the personal experience of someone else who has suffered from the same disease can be very important, as well. In that respect, this article will document my own discovery of cataracts, what my symptoms were, and the steps I have taken to treat the problem.
What is a cataract?
Within the eyeball, everyone has a lens to focus the incoming light onto the retina at the back of the eye, and this lens is both crucial to good vision and a source of multiple problems.
In order for the lens to function properly two things are necessary; the lens must transmit light through it and it must move and flex to vary the focus according to the distance of the object being viewed. As people age, the lens slowly hardens and the tiny muscles that flex and move it can no longer accomplish that action. This is termed presbyopia and is the reason most elderly people must wear glasses; while the lens will still focus far away objects it can no longer be flexed sufficiently to focus on objects nearby.
This is not cataracts, however, Later in this series presbyopia becomes important but for now it is only mentioned as a "disease" of the eye that often accompanies cataracts. Cataracts are, rather than a hardening of the lens, a fogging of that same lens. It may still be able to move about and try to focus properly but it is no longer transparent and will not transmit light as it should. That fogging has several unfortunate affects, which give rise the the symptoms of cataracts that is the core of the discussion in this article.
If you are indeed experiencing symptoms from cataracts and not from something else you are not alone. One doctor has informed me that everyone will develop cataracts if they live long enough—that it is a natural part of aging. It will happen to different people at different ages, of course; my wife developed them at around 50 while I am in my 60s. My mother had them when she was only around 35 or 40. Most common is my own case: sometime in the 60s or 70s.
Symptoms that you may have cataracts
While only an eye exam by a optometrist of ophthalmologist can verify the existence of cataracts, there are several symptoms that are very common. These can include:
- Blurring of your vision. Proper focus on details becomes impossible and prescription glasses don't help much if at all.
- Dimming. There never seems to be enough light, particularly when looking at small items.
- Double vision. Without proper focus and two eyes that are focused differently double vision is common. You may see two of everything.
- Washed out colors. Color loses it vibrancy and always looks faded and washed out. This happens slowly enough that it may not be noticeable, but patients often report an outstanding difference after the cataracts are removed.
- The feeling of a "film" over the world. Difficult to describe, but many patients describe vision as through a film over their eyes.
- Frequent changing of glasses prescription. Cataracts affect the focus and near vision. As they develop and grow it can at least help to change the correction factor of your glasses (if worn) even though it is not a true solution and eventually won't be a solution at all.
- Frequently cleaning your glasses. The world looks as if your glasses are dirty and need cleaned. It doesn't help, but we all do it anyway.
- Difficulty in driving. As the world blurs out driving becomes more and more difficult and dangerous. When you can't distinguish a car from a shadow that is a block away it is far past time to limit driving. Nighttime often poses special problems as glare from oncoming traffic and streetlights becomes overwhelming. At the same time, the need for more light makes the night far darker than it really is. More on this in the next section.
- Trouble viewing a computer screen. This "mid range" distance seems almost a separate problem for cataracts, particularly for that increasing number of people that spend large amounts of time on a computer.
- If only one eye is severely affected, a definite loss of depth perception can be experienced. This is because your brain will use the "good" eye pretty much by itself, but it takes two good eyes to have good depth perception. Again, more on this cataract symptom below.
My cataracts develop and grow
I would like to take a few lines here to describe my own personal experiences as the cataracts in my eyes developed and grew into something that made correction necessary.
I have had presbyopia for years and wear bifocals, mostly for intermediate and near vision purposes although they help my distance vision a small amount as well. It started one beautiful day in the park when my glasses were dirty. Without a cleaning kit, I simply wiped them gently on my shirt as a stopgap. It didn't help and I repeated the process a second and then a third time.
At this point it became obvious that the problem wasn't dirty glasses and, comparing vision with just the left eye to that with the right eye confirmed that. My left eye had a "film" over it just like that from dirty or dusty glasses.
At that time it wasn't too objectionable; just a minor nuisance. Six months later, though, it was more than minor. I couldn't read anything for more than a few minutes at a time instead of the more normal 5 or 6 hours. Night driving was becoming a little tougher as it was too dark to see the edge of the road - a country road without a white line became dangerous to drive at night. I saw no "halo" from lights but did see considerable glare - not impossible to ignore, but more difficult than it used to be.
I had self diagnosed cataracts, but decided a real diagnosis was necessary as well as new glasses and scheduled an appointment with an optometrist. The diagnosis at that time (late December) was cataracts in both eyes, but only the one in the left eye was really interfering with vision; the one in the right eye was still quite small and only at the edges of the lens. My glasses prescription had changed, but only very slightly for the right eye and the left was so far gone that glasses would not help at all, so new prescription glasses were not purchased.
Two months later my vision had deteriorated considerably. Night driving was very difficult and when in rain nearly impossible. It was necessary to have a car in front to follow just to stay in my own lane in those conditions. I began using a special pair of reading glasses just for computer work, but they were inadequate at best. Reading a book was impossible; instead of reading a book per week or so I had read just two or three books in the last year and the last two were on an e-reader received for Christmas where I could increase the size of the print considerably.
My work as an electrician was increasing in difficulty as well. Blueprints were very difficult to read and darkened rooms without light were impossible to work in. Small parts and screws had to be "felt" for instead of seen even when the light was good.
I began to have a "funny" feeling in the left eye, simply impossible to describe - just that there was something wrong with it. I noticed my left eyelid drooping, particularly in bright sunlight, as my body refused to use the eye and simply blocked it off so to speak.
I lost most of my depth perception. Walking of rocky surfaces was difficult and great care was needed as I could no longer distinguish larger stones just ahead and could not determine distance (and thereby size) of stones farther away. Jumping from a low wall or floor to a lower surface was inadvisable as I could no longer tell how far the drop was. Parking a reasonable distance behind the car in front was impossible; what I thought was 4 feet turned out to be nearly 10 feet.
Dim rooms were more and more of a problem as the light was no longer being received even though I still had one "good" eye (good is relative; it was beginning to show small signs of vision problems as well). I am an electrician and changed out the room lighting in our living room to provide a good deal more light but it only helped temporarily. About the only positive was that I had always had very good night vision, but at the cost of always having to wear sunglasses in bright light. That is no longer necessary; a beautiful sunny day is comfortable now instead of being overly bright.
By March the cataract had developed enough that even though it is only one eye it causes a film of fog to be seen when using both eyes. More and more I simply close the left eye, to the point that I have considered an eye patch. The left eye now has such poor focus that I cannot read the massive freeway signs from directly under them with that eye alone.
With my cataract symptoms negatively affecting my everyday activities to such a degree it was time to take the next step. The only cure for cataracts is to remove the cloudy lens inside the eye and replace it with an artificial one; it is not possible to remove the fog from the natural lens. With no insurance coverage, cost becomes a major factor and I wanted all the information I could get before I spent several hundred dollars with an ophthalmologist for a cataract evaluation. It was time to at least tentatively choose the IOL (Intra-Ocular Lens) implant I wanted (subject to a really complete eye exam from the ophthalmologist). The standard IOL works very well for distance vision; not so well for intermediate or near vision. Newer, premium (and premium cost) lenses can help here and can even help correct the presbyopia I have had for years. That is the subject of the next article in this series.
© 2012 Dan Harmon