For people with cataracts, the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye can make them feel as though they are looking through a foggy window. Fortunately, most cataracts develop slowly. But over time they can interfere with vision and make daily activities, such as reading or driving, difficult to perform.
Cataracts, while very common, especially in those over age 60, are an often-misunderstood condition. Many myths surround how cataracts form, what causes them, how they develop, and how they are removed. Here we debunk five common cataract myths.
- Myth: Cataracts are Growths on Your Eyes
Actually, cataracts aren’t growths at all. They don’t grow over your lens, your cornea, or any other part of your eye. A cataract is a cloudy area inside the lens of the eye (the normally transparent structure whose job it is to focus images on the back of the eye). Age-related cataracts are caused by changes in the proteins within the lens of the eye. As you age, these proteins can start to break down and clump together, forming a cloudy area known as a cataract.
Cataracts can also develop from other causes such as injury to the eye, previous surgeries, inherited genetic conditions, and long-term use of certain medications. It’s even possible to be born with cataracts (congenital cataracts). But no matter what the underlying cause, cataracts are protein clumps or deposits in the tissue of the lens. They are permanent changes to the lens of the eye. Learn more about cataracts here.
- Myth: Cataracts are Caused by Reading Too Much or Other Close-up Work
It’s true that when you have a cataract, you may have difficulties reading or doing other close-up work such as sewing, crafts, or puzzles. But these activities, no matter how often you do them, do not cause a cataract to form. Some risk factors increase your chances of developing a cataract, for example, smoking or excessive exposure to sunlight, but reading and up-close activities are not among them.
- Myth: Cataracts Can Grow Back After Surgery
Fortunately, cataracts cannot grow back. Cataract surgery involves removing the natural lens of the eye that has become clouded with a cataract and replacing it with an artificial lens known as an intraocular lens, or IOL. Artificial lenses cannot form cataracts.
Some patients do, however, experience blurry vision post-surgery. It’s not a cataract recurrence, but rather an easily treated condition known as posterior capsular opacification, or PCO. This condition is commonly referred to as a “secondary cataract,” which is where the myth of cataract “re-growth” probably originates.
- Myth: All Cataracts Must Be Removed Immediately
Cataracts typically develop very slowly. The rate of development varies from person to person, but most age-related cataracts form gradually over a period of years. In the beginning, cataracts may not interfere with vision at all and may not need to be removed. Most eye doctors recommend cataract surgery when a cataract begins to affect everyday life, making it difficult to perform tasks such as driving, cooking, or reading.
- Myth: The Only Cataract Symptom is Blurry or Cloudy Vision
Cataracts affect different people in different ways. It’s true that blurry or cloudy vision is a common symptom, but there are others as well. For some people, cataracts cause colors to appear faded. They can also cause decreased vision at night and “halos” to appear around lights, both of which can make it difficult to drive after dark. Other symptoms include light sensitivity and double vision in one eye. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your eye doctor.
Most eye doctors recommend an annual eye exam, especially after age 40. An eye exam helps detect eye diseases at the earliest stages, when they are most treatable.