Get the Facts About Cataracts

The Facts

Cataracts are a progressive clouding and yellowing of an eye’s lens that affects vision. As people age, the protein that, with water, makes up most of the eye’s lens starts to clump together and create a cloud over the lens. This cloud is a cataract and it blocks the passage of light into the eye, making the vision in your eye blurry. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes

Smoking and diabetes can contribute to cataracts and at least 10 percent of cataract cases are directly attributable to UV exposure, especially UVB. In addition, the eye protein, like many other parts of the human body, may simply change over the years.

Cataract.jpgSo, those at greatest risk for cataracts include:

  • The elderly
  • Those with certain diseases
  • People who smoke and drink
  • And those with prolonged exposure to sunlight.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common type of cataract is age-related (95%), but there are four other, less common types of cataracts:

  1. Secondary cataract. Cataracts that form after surgery for other eye problems, such as glaucoma. Cataracts are sometimes linked to steroid use.
  2. Traumatic cataract. Cataracts can develop after an eye injury, sometimes years later.
  3. Congenital cataract. Some babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood, often in both eyes.
  4. Radiation cataract. Cataracts can develop after exposure to some types of radiation.

Prevent Blindness says that nearly 25.7 million Americans ages 40 and older have a cataract.  The number is expected to increase by 50 percent to 38.5 million by 2032, and by 78 percent to 45.6 million by the year 2050.


Symptoms of Cataracts

Cataracts are usually painless and there’s no redness of the eye associated with them. Some symptoms include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision.
  • Faded colors
  • Lights appear too bright.
  • Poor night vision.
  • Double vision or multiple images in one eye.
  • Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  • A milky or yellowish spot in the pupil.

The NIH cautions that these are also symptoms of other eye disease, so if you experience any of them, see your eye doctor. To check for cataracts, your doctor will perform a visual acuity test, do a dilated eye exam, and measure the pressure inside your eyes with a tonometer. Surgery is not necessary unless the cataract(s) interfere with daily activities, like reading or driving. New eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses may be used for treatment in the early stages.

Prevent Blindness America recommends that individuals do not have cataract surgery if:

  • cataracts have not affected your lifestyle or kept you from doing all the things you want and need to do;
  • your vision will not improve with surgery because of other eye problems;
  • glasses or contact lenses can provide satisfactory vision you are not well enough/fit enough for the surgery;
  • you do not want surgery.

The Prognosis: Excellent

Cataracts are not only common, they are treatable. While, as with any surgery, there are risks, cataract surgery has a success rate of 95 percent, and is one of the safest and most effective surgeries available. Cataract surgery.jpgDuring cataract surgery your ophthalmologist will make a small incision and replace the lens with an artificial lens. The surgery takes about 15 minutes, although the process from arrival at the hospital, surgery, and discharge takes about half a day. If both eyes have cataracts, surgery will be performed separately, about 4 weeks apart.

Following surgery you may need to use eye drops for a while and you will have to protect your eyes with glasses or other eye covering. You should refrain from heavy lifting, and rubbing your eyes. It may take some time before your vision is completely clear. In most cases, your eye will be completely healed within a month or two.


Cataracts can’t be prevented, but you can minimize the risk and slow their progression. Doctors recommend the following to protect your vision:

  • Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat healthier foods, including green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.
  • Wear proper eye protection to avoid injury.
  • If you are age 60 or older, have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years.

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