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What is a cataract, exactly?

Updated: May 1, 2019

Most of us have heard of a cataract. We often get it confused with an eye disease, glaucoma (more on that in the next blog post). A cataract is not an eye disease, and everyone will get one if they live long enough. Here's the rundown.

A natural lens sits inside the eye and behind the pupil. Similar to a camera lens, it bends and refracts light to help us see.

Image via Quartz

A cataract is simply when the lens becomes cloudy, which occurs with age. Early signs can be detected by an eye doctor around age 50, but signs can also happen sooner or later. Vision problems may not develop until much later even though your eye doctor may still see signs of it.

What causes it?

With age, the proteins inside the lens break down and cause a cloudy lens. This tends to develop in both eyes at the same time, however cataracts can grow faster and cause more vision problems in one eye first. UV light, trauma, diabetes, and medications such as corticosteroids can cause cataracts to develop sooner.

Image via the Mayo Clinic

Are there any symptoms?

-Blurry vision

-Difficulty driving at night

-Increased glare/halos

-Colors seem less vibrant

What can I do?

1. Wear sun protection while outdoors to slow down progression

2. Update your glasses or contacts to an accurate prescription (cataracts can cause your prescription to change)

3. Put an anti-reflective coating on your glasses to help reduce glare

4. Increase lighting while reading

Is there any treatment?

Once a cataract becomes visually significant, surgery can be performed to remove it. Not everyone will end up needing or wanting cataract surgery. It is usually considered if the cataracts prevent you from doing things you want or need to do.

It is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the US and typically takes only 10-20 minutes to perform. You can also go home once the surgery is complete without an overnight stay in a hospital. During the operation, the natural lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens implant that can often correct your vision. This allows you to see more clearly, and you may only need to wear reading glasses afterwards!

Cataracts are very common. If you are concerned, talk to your eye care provider to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

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