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A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens that can cause vision problems. The most common type is related to aging. More than half of all Americans age 65 and older have a cataract. In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts. At a certain point, however, surgery may be needed to improve vision. Today, cataract surgery is safe and very effective

What is the lens?

The lens is the part of the eye that helps focus light on the retina. The retina is the eye's light-sensitive layer that sends visual signals to the brain. In a normal eye, light passes through the lens and gets focused on the retina. To help produce a sharp image, the lens must remain clear.

What is a cataract?

The lens is made mostly of water and protein. The protein is arranged to let light pass through and focus on the retina. Sometimes some of the protein clumps together. This can start to cloud small areas of the lens, blocking some light from reaching the retina and interfering with vision. This is a cataract.

In its early stages, a cataract may not cause a problem. The cloudiness may affect only a small part of the lens. However, over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

What causes cataracts?

No one knows exactly what causes cataracts. It is known, however, that a chemical change occurs within the eye that causes the lens to become cloudy. This may be due simply to advancing age or it may be a result of heredity, an injury, or a disease. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes but often at different rates.

Can cataracts be prevented?

Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming.

What are the signs/symptoms of cataracts?

Although cataracts usually develop without pain or redness, some indications that a cataract may be forming include blurred or hazy vision, the appearance of spots in front of the eyes, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes. A temporary improvement in vision may also occur.

How are cataracts diagnosed?

A thorough eye and vision examination by a doctor of optometry can determine the presence or absence of cataracts.

How are cataracts treated?

If your cataracts develop to a point that your daily activities are affected, you will be referred to an eye surgeon who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataracts.

Is surgery the only way to treat cataracts?

Your optometrist can prescribe changes in your eyewear that will help you see more clearly until surgery is necessary, but surgery is the only proven method for effectively treating cataracts. The surgery is a relatively uncomplicated procedure and has a 95 percent success rate.

When will I need to have the cataracts removed?

Cataracts may develop slowly over many, many years or they may develop rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to a point where they need to be removed. Your optometrist will arrange a consultation with a surgeon who will decide on the appropriate time for removal. Most people wait until the cataracts develop to a degree that interferes with daily activities before having them removed.

What happens after the removal of the cataracts?

Contact lenses, eyeglasses, and intraocular lenses are all common forms of post-cataract vision correction. You, along with your doctor, will decide on the type of vision correction you will use.

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