Cataracts vs. Glaucoma

A patient being checked on his eye

Glaucoma and cataracts are two of the most common eye disorders among adults. While these conditions occur as a natural part of the aging process, both can lead to vision loss and compromised eye health if they’re left untreated. 

Aside from age, the factors that cause glaucoma and cataracts vary — as do the ways each eye disease can impact your lifestyle. By understanding the different signs and symptoms of glaucoma and cataracts, you can help ensure early detection and treatment to keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear.  

Cataracts vs. Glaucoma: What’s the Difference?

Cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans over 40 and half of adults by age 75. While glaucoma is less prevalent, with about 3 million cases in the U.S., reports estimate that only half of those with the condition know they have it. 

Both are leading causes of blindness in the U.S., but patients experience positive outcomes with treatment when the conditions are detected early.

Cataracts: Symptoms and Treatment

The eye’s lens is a thin, transparent disc that helps focus light to form images. As we age, the proteins in our eyes start to break down. When this occurs, they can form clumps — or cataracts — that accumulate on the lens, blurring and distorting your vision. 

These cloud-like clumps take time to form, so cataract symptoms can develop slowly. Be sure to schedule an eye exam with your doctor if you experience:

  • Blurred or cloudy vision that makes it difficult to read or watch television
  • Double vision that impacts daily activities like eating or walking
  • Difficulty driving at night from light sensitivity and “halos” around light sources
  • A frequent need for stronger reading glasses
  • Yellow-tinted vision or less vivid perception of colors

If you experience cataract symptoms, your optometrist can confirm a diagnosis with a dilation test during an eye exam. In some cases, a prescription change can overcome cataract-related vision changes. 

As the condition advances, your doctor may recommend a surgical option to remove cataracts or replace the clouded lens with an artificial one. Cataract surgery is a common outpatient procedure with high success rates in restoring normal vision.  

Glaucoma: Symptoms and Treatment

Your eyes contain fluid that’s continually produced and reabsorbed, maintaining consistent pressure. Glaucoma occurs when this cycle gets obstructed and fluid cannot drain properly. This slow increase in pressure damages the optic nerve, which can result in vision loss over time. 

Because glaucoma’s effects are so gradual, the condition can be difficult to detect without regular eye exams in which your optometrist takes precise pressure measurements. As the disease progresses, it can cause symptoms like:

  • Changes to your peripheral vision
  • Blurry vision and rings around lights
  • Tunnel vision

In rare cases, glaucoma can develop suddenly. When this occurs, these symptoms present rapidly. Patients may also experience eye pain and tenderness, headaches, redness, and nausea. 

While glaucoma damage cannot be reversed, treatment can slow or prevent vision loss. To reduce your eye pressure, your doctor may:

Maintain Healthy Vision

The best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma or cataracts is to get regular, comprehensive eye exams. Early detection of these conditions helps ensure the best treatment course and outcomes. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmologists recommends that people under 40 see their eye doctor every five to ten years. Once over the age of 40, you should have a routine eye exam at least every two years. 

Contact us at Brimhall Eye Center if you’re worried you may have cataracts or glaucoma. We’ll help you catch any symptoms as early as possible and provide the best treatment to help you maintain your vision as you age. 

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