A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is like a glass window that we look through to see. It is made of water, protein, and other chemicals. With aging, these proteins become cloudy and interfere with the passage of light. As cataracts progress, it is hard to see clearly. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
The cause of most cataracts is unknown. However, the risk of getting cataracts is increased by long-term use of antiinflammatory steroids, infections of the eye, and illnesses such as diabetes.
Most often, cataracts develop with aging. The lens slowly becomes cloudy, thick, hard, and dry and eventually a cataract develops.
The major symptom is blurred vision. At times, distance vision will be blurred more than reading vision, but at other times the reverse is true. Also, poor sight even with eyeglasses or contact lenses, ghost-like images, glare, and a halo around a light may be noticed
Your health care provider will suspect a cataract based on your history and eye exam. You will be referred to an eye specialist (optometrist or ophthalmologist), who will use equipment to look into the eye to see the cataract. An optometrist is someone who tests for vision defects to prescribe eyeglasses. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in eye diseases.
Cataracts don’t damage the eye. They only cause blurred vision. People who are happy with their overall vision don’t need cataract surgery.
Once a person is no longer satisfied with their ability to see, and/or the health care provider finds that vision is significantly impaired, cataract surgery should be considered. At times with early cataracts, vision can be improved with glasses. As the cataract progresses, just changing the glasses will not help vision.
Most cataract operations can be performed as outpatient procedures. The eye is numbed with eye drops. Medicine is given to make the person sleepy. In surgery, the clouded lens is removed and usually replaced with a permanent plastic lens, called an intraocular lens. After surgery, there are usually minimal restrictions on activities.
Cataract surgery is never performed on both eyes at the same time. People usually have surgery performed on the weaker eye first, so that they can depend on the stronger eye while the operated eye heals.
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