Cataracts are the third leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Studies suggest that everyone who lives long enough will get cataracts, although there may be some reduced risk for individuals who eat properly, avoid sun exposure and do not smoke.
A cataract is not a disease but an aging process similar to graying hair. As the eye ages, the normal lens inside the eye becomes cloudy. The lens focuses light rays on the retina at the back of the eye to produce a sharp image of what we see. When the lens becomes cloudy, the light rays cannot pass easily through it, and the image becomes blurry. It can be compared to a window that is frosted or “fogged” with steam.
There are many misconceptions about a cataract. A cataract is:
- Not a film or growth over the eye
- Not caused by overusing the eyes
- Not a cancer
- Not spread from one eye to the other
- Not a cause of irreversible blindness
What causes a cataract?
Cataracts usually develop as part of the aging process. Other causes include:
- Family history
- Medical problems, such as diabetes
- Injury to the eye
- Medications, such as steroids
- Long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight
- Previous eye surgery
When is a cataract suspected?
The amount and pattern of cloudiness within the lens can vary. If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that a cataract is present. However, many people experience common symptoms, which include:
- A painless blurring of vision
- Glare, or light sensitivity
- Frequent eyeglass prescription changes
- Double vision in one eye
- Needing brighter light to read
- Fading or yellowing of colors
How is a cataract detected?
A thorough eye examination can detect the presence and extent of a cataract, as well as other conditions that may be causing blurred vision or discomfort. When other conditions are present, particularly those involving the retina or optic nerve, perfect vision may not return after cataract removal.