A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. Light passes through the eye’s lens, and the lens then focuses this light on the retina so you can see. When the lens is cloudy or opaque, it interferes with this passage of light and blurs vision.
There are three types of cataracts:
There are many misconceptions about cataracts. A cataract is not a film over the eye. It is not caused by overuse of the eye. A cataract is not a cancer, and it is not spread from one eye to the other. Most importantly, a cataract is not a path to irreversible blindness. In fact, cataract surgery is a safe, common, and simple procedure with an excellent success rate that can give you better vision.
The most common type of cataract is related to aging of the eye, with cataracts developing gradually over a period of years in later adult life. According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of all Americans age 80 or older have cataracts or have had surgery to remove cataracts.
Cataracts, however, can also be caused by family history; disease (such as diabetes); an eye injury or past eye surgery; smoking; damage from too much time in the sun without protective sunglasses; or use of certain medications (such as corticosteroids). Cataracts may even exist at birth (congenital cataract). In some cases, cataracts may progress rapidly over a few months, but overall, it is difficult to predict how fast a cataract will develop for any given individual.
You may notice some changes in your vision if you have a cataract. The most common symptoms include:
Surgery is the only treatment for a cataract. Cataract surgery involves removing the natural, clouded lens of the eye and replacing it with a clear, artificial lens. The procedure is usually performed with local anesthesia on an outpatient basis, and typically lasts less than an hour. Cataract surgery is a common, simple, and safe procedure with an excellent success rate. And best of all, when the surgery is done, you will regain clear vision and see better.
A cataract usually does not need to be removed right away, with timing generally guided by when the cataract is affecting your lifestyle. Surgery might be recommended if the presence of the cataract is preventing a thorough examination of your eye or treatment of another eye problem, such as age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.
Actions such as updating your eyeglass prescription, using brighter lighting, or wearing sunglasses may be helpful in minimizing the blurry vision and glare caused by a cataract. But when these measures no longer work––and when the cataract is interfering with your driving, favorite hobbies, and other daily activities––it might be time to consider having cataract surgery to improve your vision.