Most people have heard of cataracts, but you may not know what the term really means. A cataract is the clouding of the lens in your eye. The lens is normally clear, but with age or other conditions it may become cloudy or discolored.
Cataracts are common in older people. They can develop as early as your 40s. They usually worsen slowly, so at first you may not notice a change in your vision. Over time as the lens clouds your vision looks foggy or frosted, and you may see a lot of glare when looking at bright lights. It often becomes very difficult to see or drive at night. Eventually it can be hard to make out faces.
According to the National Eye Institute, more than 50 percent of Americans have a cataract or undergo cataract surgery by the age of 80. You can develop a cataract in one eye or both, but it is not contagious so it isn’t spread from one eye or one person to another.
Mayo Clinic lists the following signs and symptoms of cataract:
• Clouded, blurred or dim vision
• Increasing difficulty with vision at night
• Sensitivity to light and glare
• Seeing "halos" around lights
• Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
• Fading or yellowing of colors
• Double vision in a single eye
In addition to age, there are other types of cataracts:
• Congenital-children sometimes develop or are born with cataracts
• Radiation-cataracts can develop after exposure to some kinds of radiation
• Secondary-some cataracts are caused by disease, steroid medications or develop after eye surgery
• Traumatic-cataracts can develop even years after an eye injury
• Excessive sun exposure, high alcohol intake, and smoking also contribute to cataracts
In addition to clouding the lens, cataracts can add a brownish tint to everything you see, making night vision that much worse. This can make it hard to read, and affects the way you see color.
Cataracts are identified by eye care professionals, and usually treated by ophthalmologists. Initially, changes in ambient lighting and eyeglasses can aid in your vision, but eventually you may need surgery if your vision deteriorates too much. Cataract surgery is most often an outpatient surgery, and outcomes are very good. If both eyes are affected, normally surgery is done on one eye at a time, with the surgeries spaced several weeks apart.
You can help prevent cataracts. Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, stop smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, and protect your eyes from sunlight with sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Have regular comprehensive eye exams, particularly if you have risk factors. It is recommended that you have a full eye exam each year once you are 60 years old.
National Eye Institute: Facts About Cataract