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Cataracts vs. Glaucoma: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

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When it comes to eye diseases, it can seem like there are too many to count and that the differences between all of them are too confusing to remember. However, there are two important conditions that everyone should know about: cataracts and glaucoma. These conditions, while manageable, are some of the more common eye conditions.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lenses inside the eye that can lead to blurry vision, while glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. 

It’s important to note that it is possible to have both of these conditions simultaneously. This makes it essential to regularly schedule comprehensive eye exams so an optometrist can determine if either of these conditions are affecting your eyes. 

What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are a common eye condition that leads to the clouding of your eye’s natural lens. In a healthy eye, this lens is clear, allowing your eye to refract light and send signals to your brain. When a cataract develops, this lens can become cloudy, causing blurry or foggy spots in your vision. Fortunately, this condition is treatable.

What Causes Cataracts?

Cataracts usually form slowly over time and are commonly caused by age-related changes in your eye. As you age, the proteins in your lens may clump together and form a deposit that can block light from entering your eye. This can lead to blurry and cloudy vision.

In addition to aging, cataracts have several causes, which can include:

  • Diabetes and diabetic retinopathy
  • Smoking and substance abuse
  • Certain medications
  • Eye injuries

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Cataracts have several potential symptoms, including:

  • Blurry or cloudy vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Cataracts are treated through surgery. Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the United States. If you only have a cataract in one eye, it can be performed in a single session, but if you have them in both, the surgery may have to be performed on each eye during separate appointments. 

This is usually an outpatient procedure performed under local anesthesia. The clouded natural lens is removed and replaced with an artificial clear lens. 

It’s important to note that not all cataracts require immediate surgery, especially if they aren’t seriously impacting your day-to-day life. That’s why it’s vital to consult your optometrist during a regular eye exam so they can monitor your cataract progression and help you determine what’s best for your eyes.

A senior man raising his hands to block out the sun to see more clearly.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of different eye diseases that can cause damage to the optic nerve and is typically caused by pressure in the eye. This condition can develop slowly and painlessly, so the initial symptoms may go entirely unnoticed. Eventually, it can affect your peripheral vision and cause vision loss.

It’s considered a chronic condition, so for those with glaucoma or those at risk, it’s important to regularly visit an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam, so the development can be monitored and treated.

What Causes Glaucoma?

The exact causes of glaucoma aren’t fully understood, but it’s believed to be caused by increases in eye pressure, and a person’s risk can also increase based on genetics, age, and other factors. The most common form of glaucoma, called primary open-angle glaucoma, is often associated with age-related changes in the drainage system of the eye. 

It’s also believed that other medical conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems, can lead to the development of glaucoma due to how they affect the eye. A history of eye trauma or injury can also contribute to your risk of developing glaucoma.

What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma often proceeds painlessly and slowly, meaning that the early symptoms of the condition may be undetectable without a visit to the optometrist. However, as the condition progresses, it can lead to total vision loss, making it important to regularly schedule comprehensive eye exams. 

Once glaucoma begins to progress, individuals may notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Sensitivity to glaring light

It’s also common to notice a change in your prescription. Because many of these symptoms can be related to other eye conditions, experiencing one or two of them does not necessarily mean glaucoma is developing. However, it’s always a good idea to visit an optometrist when you notice changes in your vision. 

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Glaucoma itself is a lifelong condition requiring ongoing treatment to minimize how it impacts your life. The main goal of any treatment related to glaucoma is to lower the pressure in your eye to reduce any further damage to the optic nerve. The specific approach taken for glaucoma treatment can depend on the type and severity a person is experiencing.

Typically, one of the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Medication or eye drops: These are often the first line of treatment recommended.
  • Laser therapy: Laser therapy can be used to help the eye’s natural drainage system.
  • Surgery: This approach is less common but is designed to add an artificial drainage system to the eye or alter its existing natural drainage system to help reduce eye pressure.

The treatment for glaucoma varies from person to person based on the type of glaucoma, a person’s response to other treatments, and their individual medical history and characteristics. 

If you’re dealing with glaucoma, it’s important to regularly visit your optometrist for follow-up appointments so they can monitor how your glaucoma progresses.

Comprehensive Eye Care for Cataracts & Glaucoma

While the symptoms of these two conditions are similar, their long-term effect on your life can vary. Cataracts are common and treatable but can still lead to vision problems. On the other hand, glaucoma is a serious, sight-threatening condition that requires lifelong treatment to manage. 

When it comes to any eye condition, regular visits to an optometrist are the best way to begin treatment. Through regular comprehensive eye exams, you can catch and manage these conditions early and minimize their effects on your life. 

To speak with a caring and experienced eye care team about your needs, schedule an appointment with us here at Foothill Optometric Group!

Written by Total Vision

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