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Clearing up the confusion about cataracts

Published in For the Health of It Author: Jeffrey Pearson, OD

CentraCare Eye Clinic

Every day, all over the world, eye doctors diagnose cataracts in their patients. The response is almost always the same, “What exactly is a cataract?”

Contrary to popular belief, a cataract is not a growth that needs to be removed from the surface of the eye. It is a clouding of the crystalline lens inside the eye. Your lens is located right behind the iris, which is the colored part of your eye. The lens is made up of mostly water and protein. The protein forms in a certain way to keep the lens clear allowing light to pass through. The lens focuses light on the retina, which sends the image through the optic nerve to your brain.

Over time, the protein in your lens changes, forming a clouded area in the lens called a cataract. Cataracts make your eyesight blurry or dimmed.

What causes cataracts?
Aging is the most common cause. This is due to normal eye changes that happen starting around age 40. That is when normal proteins in the lens start to break down. People over age 60 usually start to have some clouding of their lenses. However, vision problems may not happen until years later. Most age-related cataracts develop gradually.

You may get cataracts if you:

  • Have a family history of cataracts
  • Are diabetic or have high blood pressure
  • Had an eye injury, eye surgery or radiation treatments on your upper body
  • Spent a lot of time in the sun — especially without sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • Use certain medications such as corticosteroids

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

You may notice some vision changes if you have a cataract, such as

  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision (when you see two images instead of one)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Poor night vision or vision in low light
  • Problems with glare or halos

While there are no clinically proven approaches to preventing cataracts, ways to reduce your risk include:

  • Wear sunglasses that screen out the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light rays. You also may wear regular eyeglasses that have a clear, anti-UV coating.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Increase your antioxidant vitamin consumption by eating more leafy green vegetables and taking nutritional supplements.

How are cataracts treated?

Researchers are studying ways to someday treat cataracts medically. Currently, however, the only treatment for a cataract is lens replacement surgery. Your surgeon will replace your cloudy natural lens (cataract) with an engineered acrylic implant known as an intra-ocular lens (IOL). At CentraCare Eye Clinic, we offer a wide variety of replacement lenses for both distance vision and near functioning. Follow this link to learn more about cataract surgery options.