What is a cataract?

Cataract is part of normal aging. Each year, cataract affects millions of people, including more than half of all older than 60.

A cataract is a painless clouding of the eye's natural lens. If left untreated, cataracts worsen over time and can interfere with everyday activities such as reading or driving. Night vision is usually most affected. When cataracts are in their early stages, people are helped by brighter lighting. As cataracts get worse, however, many people may require surgery.


What are the risk factors for cataracts?

The most common cause of cataracts is aging.

In addition to aging, the following other factors can increase the risk of developing cataracts:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Exposure to upper body radiation
  • Family history of cataracts
  • High blood pressure
  • Previous eye injury or eye surgery
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications

How are cataracts diagnosed?

Several tests, including the following, are performed to diagnose cataracts:

  • Visual acuity test
  • Slit-lamp examination
  • Retinal examination

In combination, such tests help determine whether a patient has cataracts, or whether her or his vision problems have some other cause. They also assist in evaluating the degree of visual impairment, and whether surgery should be performed.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

People with cataracts often do not realize they have them until vision is affected. Cataract symptoms include the following:

  • Blurred, hazy or double vision when looking through one eye
  • Decreased color perception
  • Sensitivity to bright light and glare at night
  • Poor night vision
  • Perception of halos around lights
  • Frequent changes in corrective-lens prescriptions

How are cataracts treated?

Early cataracts can sometimes be treated with non-surgical methods, including the following:

  • New corrective-lens prescriptions
  • Anti-glare sunglasses
  • Magnifying lenses
  • Brighter lighting

If cataracts begin to interfere with reading ability, work, night driving, or other daily activities, cataract surgery may be recommended

How are cataracts prevented?

Although there is no evidence that cataracts can be prevented, their development can sometimes be delayed by the following:

  • Wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays
  • Not smoking; not drinking excessively
  • Eating a healthy diet high in antioxidants

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