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Understanding cataracts

FALLBROOK – Individuals' bodies, including their eyes, change with age. Vision can become less sharp as a person ages. Some aging individuals also experience difficulty seeing in bright light or in the evening. Cataracts may be to blame for these vision changes.

The National Eye Institute estimates that, by 2050, the number of people in the United States with cataracts is expected to reach roughly 50 million. Those projections suggest now is a great time for people of all ages to learn more about cataracts.

What causes cataracts?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says normal changes in the eye occur after turning 40. Notably, normal proteins in the lens – the clear portion of the eye that sits behind the pupil – begin to break down, leading to a gradual clouding of the lens. Most cataracts are related to aging.

However, babies, children and middle-aged adults also can experience cataracts from birth or related to specific medical conditions, offers Johns Hopkins Medicine. An injury to the eye also may cause cataracts.

Symptoms of cataracts

Individuals with cataracts may begin to experience diminished vision. Harvard Medical School says cataracts typically do not cause any symptoms until they have grown large enough to affect vision. Afterwards, symptoms can include:

¥ Double vision

¥ Cloudy or blurry vision

¥ Seeing halos around lights

¥ Increased glare sensitivity

¥ Colors appearing faded or yellow

¥ Requiring more light to read

¥ Difficulty seeing well at night

Cataract development

Cataracts tend to form gradually. A cataract may be in one eye or both. It may be possible to slow down the development of cataracts by protecting the eyes from sunlight. Wearing sunglasses that filter out UV rays or regular eyeglasses with anti-UV coating can help. Proper treatment for diabetes and quitting smoking can help reduce risk of cataract development as well.

Cataract diagnosis and treatment

An eye doctor will examine dilated eyes to diagnose cataracts. A slit-lamp microscope can make it easier to spot abnormalities, states the AOA.

The eye professional will consider age and the severity of cataracts to determine a treatment strategy. Early loss of vision due to cataracts may be mitigated by stronger lighting or a change in eyeglasses or contact lens prescription.

Johns Hopkins says cataract surgery is one of the most common eye surgeries. It is safe and effective. An ophthalmologist will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial, clear lens. If cataracts are present in both eyes, each surgery will be performed separately. A possible complication of cataract surgery is when a part of the natural lens that is not taken out during surgery becomes cloudy and blurs eyesight. This can be remedied with a laser treatment.

Cataracts are a common byproduct of aging, but they can be successfully managed to improve eyesight outcomes.


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