A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. It can occur in one or both eyes. Most cataracts are related to aging. People can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s, but these tend to be small and don’t often affect vision. It is after age 60 that most cataracts affect vision. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.1
Your lens is a clear part of your eye that helps focus light, or an image, on the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina, where it is changed into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred.
Your eye lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. But as you age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of your lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
No one knows for sure what causes cataracts. Some researchers suspect smoking, alcohol use, poor nutrition, diabetes and prolonged exposure to sunlight increase a person’s risk for developing cataracts. Other believe that the protein in the lens simply changes as a result of wear and tear over the years.
Age-related cataracts can affect your vision in two ways:
A cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that may include:
The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures don’t help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing your cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear artificial lens.
If you and your doctor decide surgery is right for you, there are several different types of eye measurements, replacement lenses and methods of performing cataract surgery — and which you choose will directly affect your vision after surgery.