A cataract is a cloudiness that develops in the clear lens of the eye. The lens is a crystalline structure that sits just behind your pupil (the black circle in the center of your eye). Its purpose is to focus light on the retina so you can see clearly. Like grey hair, cataracts are an inevitable part of ageing that affect different people at different ages. The risk of cataract increases as you get older. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
Other risk factors for developing cataracts include:
- Certain diseases (for example, diabetes).
- Personal behavior (smoking, alcohol use.)
- Ultraviolet radiation. Studies show an increased chance of cataract formation with unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
- Drugs. Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, are associated with cataract development
- Having other eye conditions, such as long-term uveitis
- Following an eye injury or an eye surgery
Rarely, cataracts are present at birth or develop shortly after. They may be inherited or develop due to an infection (such as rubella) in the mother during pregnancy. While there are no clinically proven approaches to preventing cataracts, simple preventive strategies include:
- Reducing exposure to sunlight through UV-blocking lenses
- Stopping smoking
- Increasing antioxidant vitamin consumption by eating more leafy green vegetables or taking nutritional supplements
In age-related cataracts, changes in vision can be very gradual. Signs and symptoms of a cataract may include:
- Blurred or hazy vision
- Reduced intensity of colors
- Needing more light to see well
- Increased sensitivity to glare from lights, particularly when driving at night
- Increased difficulty seeing at night
- More frequent changes in your glasses prescription
Some people may not initially recognize the visual changes. However, as cataracts worsen, vision symptoms increase.
When a cataract progresses to the point that it affects a person's ability to do normal everyday tasks, surgery may be needed. Cataract surgery involves removing the lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens. The artificial lens requires no care and can significantly improve vision. Cataract surgery is considered one the safest surgeries today and is the most common surgery among Americans over age 65. At this time, surgery is the only treatment available for cataracts. However, please see Dr. Winkel’s blog this month to learn about research currently being done on alternative treatments.