Cataracts

*Written and Compiled by Patti Cantillo-Kodzis, RN, Senior Resource Alliance

Definition of a Cataract

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens that causes loss of vision. Normally, lenses are clear and allow light to pass through them. Cataracts can stop the light from easily passing through the lens. As the cataract gets bigger and clouds more of the lens (called ripening), it makes it difficult to read and do other normal tasks.

Cataracts are common vision problems that can develop with age. A person may develop cataracts in one or both eyes. A cataract cannot spread from one eye to the other eye.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your changes of getting a disease or a condition. Risks factors for developing cataracts include:

  • Age: cataracts are more likely to develop after the age of 60
  • Excessive exposure to UV-B radiation from sunlight
  • Family history of cataracts
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Infections
  • Injury

Symptoms

When a cataract is small, you may not notice any changes in your vision. Cataracts tend to grow slowly, so vision gets worse gradually. Vision is likely to worsen as the cataract grows.

Symptoms include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Problems with light, including glare or halos
  • Colors may seem faded
  • Poor night vision
  • Double or multiple vision (this symptom often goes away as the cataract grows)
  • The need for frequent changes in your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription

These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional.

Diagnosis
You must have an eye examination to diagnose a cataract. An ophthalmologist or optometrist examines the lens and may do other tests to determine the overall health of your eye and decide if you have a cataract.

Treatment
Sometimes the symptoms of early cataracts may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery may need to be considered. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.

A cataract needs to be removed only when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities. You and your eye care professional can make this decision together. An ophthalmologist performs cataract surgery. In about 90% of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterwards.

Prevention
It is not yet clear how to prevent cataracts. But, since vision problems increase with age, if you are over age 60, you should have an eye examination at least once every two years.

Links Used to Compile the Information in this Article:
National Institute on Aging: www.nia.nih.gov

American Academy of Ophthalmology: www.aao.org

National Eye Institute: www.nei.nih.gov

This information is not intended to be a substitute for medical, legal, or professional advice. You should always consult with your doctor, financial advisor, lawyer, or other certified professional for personalized advisement.

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