As cataracts develop over time, obscuring more of the eye's crystalline lens, patients' symptoms typically worsen. Understanding where your cataract symptoms fall in the stages of cataract progression is useful in planning appropriate treatment. Simple remedies like a new glasses prescription help many patients whose cataracts are in early stages of development; others may require treatment with cataract surgery. A qualified ophthalmologist will be able to provide you with an accurate cataract diagnosis, determine the degree of your cataract progression, and help you plan an effective course of treatment.
Stages and Treatment
Cataracts range broadly in terms of severity, meaning that some patients can live normally without treatment while others require more serious medical attention. A cataract in its early stages may never become a serious problem; however, patients with larger cataracts may find distored vision and other symptoms interfering with everyday life. Patients with advanced cataracts can usually have their eyesight fully restored with cataract surgery. The degree of progression and type of cataracts you have determines the correct course of treatment.
Early Cataract Stages
Most patients first notice cataracts when:
- Vision becomes slightly blurred
- Colors seem faded
- Night vision deteriorates
- Halos appear around lights
- Glare increases
- Double vision occurs (also known as diplopia)
Small cataracts do not always develop quickly, and some may never grow large enough to become a problem. A cataract in the early stages of development may be rectified with:
- New glasses
- Better lighting
- Anti-glare sunglasses
- Magnifying lenses
In many cases, however, cataracts grow larger and increasingly dense with time, causing significant changes in vision. These cataracts should be recognized and treated to avoid permanent vision loss.
Advanced Cataract Stages
If cataracts are significantly interfering with your everyday life, it is likely that the eye disease has reached advanced stages. Double vision-a frequent symptom of early cataracts-usually clears by the time the cataract has matured, and other symptoms begin to manifest in the form of:
- A visible white, milky spot on the lens
- Marked vision loss
When the entire lens becomes cloudy, it is referred to as "ripe" or "mature." It is ideal to pursue treatment before cataracts reach this advanced stage, and medical advances have made it possible for ophthalmologists to operate on cataracts earlier rather than later. Treatment for most patients will involve surgical replacing the cataract-clouded lens of the eye with an artificial IOL.
How Quickly Do Cataracts Progress?
The pace of cataract progression varies with each individual. In some cases, cataracts may take years to develop, while in other cases early-stage cataracts will never progress to a degree that requires treatment. In certain cases, cataract progression may be accelerated by the following factors:
- Environmental factors, such as long-term exposure to UV rays
- Diabetes, chronic vitamin deficiencies, or other medical conditions
- The use of certain medications, especially steroids
- Underlying eye conditions such as glaucoma, iritis, or trauma to the eye
In the past, doctors advised patients to wait until cataracts were "ripe"-or, reached advanced stages-to pursue treatment. Today, however, it is considered ideal to treat cataracts as early as possible.
Find a Cataract Surgeon in Your Area
A qualified cataract surgeon can identify the severity of your cataract, and help you plan a course of treatment. Because cataracts, if left untreated, can cause permanent vision loss, it is critical to have any symptoms evaluated by a doctor. DocShop can help you find an experienced ophthalmologist in your area today, so you can take the first step toward treatment.
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