The Basics: What is a Cataract?

cataract diagnosis medical chart

June is Cataract Awareness Month.  To get started, let’s answer the question: What is a cataract? The simplest explanation is the lens of the eye is no longer clear. The lens is the clear part of the eye that helps to focus light into the eye that then signals the brain to “see” images. The lens must be clear to visualize a sharp image. With age, the lens becomes increasingly cloudy, causing blurry vision, impaired night vision and a general inability to see clearly.  More poetically speaking, cataract is actually Latin for “waterfall.” However, if it is happening to your vision, you may not necessarily appreciate the symbolism.

Cataracts are an inevitability of aging, but doctors have identified a few factors such as smoking, sun exposure, diabetes, eye trauma and some medications such as steroids that may contribute to the development of a cataract.  In its early stages, people can use reading glasses, magnification and better lighting to try and improve their vision. However, as the cataract progresses, the only way to treat it is to remove the clouded lens.  Every year, according to Prevent Blindness, more than two million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S.  A few additional facts about cataracts:

  • Cataracts aren’t painful, nor do they make your eyes red or teary. A cataract simply impacts the clarity and contrast in your vision. Any changes in vision should be brought to the attention of both your primary and eye doctors.
  • According to the National Eye Institute, from 2000 to 2010, the number of cases in U.S. adults over the age of 40 rose by 20 percent, from 20.5 million to 24.4 million. In 2013, Prevent Blindness America reported 24 million cases of cataracts in U.S. adults over the age of 40.
  • Cataracts are more likely to occur among women recent reports show 61 percent of Americans with cataracts were women; 39 percent were men.
  • More than half of all Americans have cataracts by the time they are 80 years old.
  • Cataracts are the leading cause of poor vision and blindness around the globe.
  • A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. But, cataracts aren’t contagious – they don’t spread from one eye to the other.
  • Cataract removal is the most common surgical procedure in the world; some 75 million have been performed in the last three decades.
  • Cataract removal is also one of the most successful surgical procedures, with over 95 percent of patients having no post-op complications.

 

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