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A cataract is a common age-related eye disorder that develops when an area of the eye's lens (clear inner part of the eye) becomes foggy or cloudy. As you age, this breakdown and clumping of proteins can cause cataracts.
The eye lens is naturally clear and responsible for focusing light on the retina. This is the layer at the back of the eye that turns light into electrical signals for the brain to process. When the lens becomes foggy, it causes dull and blurry vision.
Cataracts typically develop slowly over time and are painless. You may not notice a change in vision until the cataract progresses and covers more of the lens.
If left untreated, cataracts can eventually lead to blindness. It’s the number one cause of preventable blindness worldwide and the leading cause of vision loss in the United States.4
Cataracts are a common part of aging, with 17.5% of Americans over 40 developing cataracts in one or both eyes.4
While age-related cataracts are the most common, there are other types of cataracts, including:
Because cataracts progress over time, vision loss may take years to develop.
Common cataract symptoms include:
Age is the most significant factor for developing cataracts, typically starting between 40 and 50. Over half of Americans over the age of 80 have developed cataracts.1
While the exact cause of cataracts is unknown, other than age, the greatest cataract risk factors include:
Cataracts develop slowly. You may not notice changes in vision until cloudiness spreads over the lens, blocking light from reaching the retina. This can take several years.
Experts recommend seeing an eye doctor when you start to experience vision changes, including:
When cataract symptoms interfere with everyday life, it might be time to consider cataract surgery. Talk to your eye doctor about treatment options.
A cataract diagnosis occurs during a comprehensive eye exam with a licensed ophthalmologist. The eye doctor will dilate your eyes to examine their health with a slit lamp (microscope) and look for signs of cataracts.
During the eye exam, the ophthalmologist will also:
People over the age of 40 should get checked for cataracts at least every 2 years. For those over 65, a yearly eye exam is recommended.
Cataract surgery is the only effective treatment. However, other interventions can help manage day-to-day activities during the early stages and before surgery becomes necessary.
To help slow the development of cataracts and improve vision at home, you can:
Updating your eyeglass or contact prescription helps improve vision and quality of life. It can also slow the progression of cataracts if the lenses have UV blocking properties.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common, safe, and effective surgeries in the United States.
It’s recommended when symptoms start to interfere with daily life.3
The lens is replaced with an artificial intraocular lens during cataract surgery, allowing light to reach the retina effectively. There are two types of cataract surgery:
Living with cataracts can be tolerable until vision loss affects your quality of life.
Cataract surgery is effective and has a good prognosis, with 9 out of 10 people experiencing improved vision after surgery.1 Because an artificial lens can't develop cataracts, you will not have to worry about them coming back.
A cloudy layer of scar tissue can form behind the artificial lens, resulting in symptoms similar to cataracts. This development is called posterior capsule opacification and occurs in about 20% of people after cataract surgery. It can be treated with a simple outpatient laser procedure.7
While you can’t stop the development of age-related cataracts, there are ways to slow progression and preserve vision, including:
If cataracts are left untreated, the clouding of the lens will eventually block all light from entering the eye. This can result in severe vision loss and ultimately blindness. Untreated cataracts are the number one cause of preventable blindness worldwide.4
Age-related cataracts are a common symptom of aging. Cataracts occur when the usually clear lens (transparent inner part of the eye) becomes cloudy or foggy due to a breakdown in proteins. A cloudy lens results in vision problems such as blurry vision, poor night vision, light sensitivity, and double vision.
While cataract removal is the only way to eliminate cloudiness, the condition can be tolerated and slowed down in the early stages by wearing sunglasses, using brighter light, quitting smoking, and maintaining a balanced diet.
To prevent cataract complications, people over age 40 need to get a dilated eye exam at least every 2 years and once a year if they are over 65.
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