Eye Health & Wellness

Understanding Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye that prevents light rays from passing through the lens and focusing on the retina (the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye). In most cases, cataracts are caused by aging. About half of Americans ages 65 to 75 have some degree of cataract development.

The specific cause of age-related cataracts is unknown. Other cataracts can be caused by diabetes, certain medications, or from trauma to the eye.

Factors that may increase your risk of cataracts include:

  • Diabetes
  • A strong family history of cataracts
  • Certain medications (corticosteroids)
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Previous eye injury
  • Smoking
  • Blurred vision, distortion, or double vision
  • The impression that there is a "film" ver your eyes
  • Frequent changes in your eyewear prescription
  • Sensitivity to light and glare, especially in bright sunlight or when driving at night

Protect your eyes with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen your exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun. There is some evidence that antioxidants and other vitamin supplements may help prevent or slow the development of cataracts. A ten-year study is currently underway at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate the connection between nutrition, vitamin supplements, and cataracts.

The only treatment for cataracts is surgery. In cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens made of clear plastic or silicone. Though cataract surgery is no guarantee of 20/20 vision, most people who have the surgery attain visual acuity of 20/20 to 20/40 after the cataract is removed and the eye is fully healed.