A cataract is clouding of the eye’s lens, the part that helps the eye focus light. The result is a general blurriness in vision that can worsen over time.
Among eye disorders, cataracts are one of the most common, particularly in the elderly. By the age of 80, people have a greater than 50 percent chance of either having a cataract or having had surgery to correct a cataract.
Causes and Symptoms of Cataracts
In the vast majority of cases, the greatest risk factor for cataracts is simply getting older. The eye’s lens is a fairly simple structure made up of water and proteins, and over time those proteins begin to clump together, leading to the blurry vision of cataracts. Other age-related lifestyle factors, such as smoking or diabetes, may raise your risk for cataracts even more.
A few non-age-related factors can cause cataracts, as well. For example, traumatic cataracts occur after an eye injury, and congenital cataracts are present at birth. You can also develop secondary cataracts that occur after surgery on the eyes. Cataracts can also develop as a result of radiation exposure.
In addition to the general blurriness of vision, cataracts also can pose problems seeing at night, cause an increased sensitivity to light glare and make colors appear less intense.
Treatment of Cataracts
If you do not yet have a cataract, some steps might help prevent one. Wearing sunglasses and hats to protect the eyes, abstaining from smoking and heavy drinking, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may all play a role in preventing cataracts. Once you have cataracts, better glasses and sunglasses and brighter light may help, but the only way to "cure" the cataract is with surgery. This procedure involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens.
SOURCES: U.S. National Eye Institute; American Optometric Association