Cataracts occur when a build-up of proteins in the lens behind the pupil makes the lens cloudy. Although usually age-related, cataracts can be congenital, a result of trauma and certain illnesses or caused by exposure to toxic substances, UV light or radiation. Other risk factors include smoking, air pollution and heavy alcohol consumption.

Age-related cataracts can affect vision in two ways. The lens in your eye is mostly water and protein. When the protein in the lens clumps up, it clouds the lens and reduces light that can reach the retina. Reduced light blurs the image reaching the retina. Also with age, the lens can slowly discolor to a yellowish/brownish tint. Over time, as the tint increases, it becomes more and more difficult to read or perform other routine tasks. With advanced lens discoloration, it may be difficult to identify blues and purples.

Persons who are over 60 years old are at particular risk for cataracts. During middle age, in one’s 40s or 50s, cataracts can occur, but they are usually small and do not affect vision. Other risk factors include certain diseases such as diabetes, smoking and alcohol use and prolonged exposure to sunlight. Everyone should have a good pair of sunglasses. It’s a simple thing that we can do to reduce the risk of cataracts.

It is important that you see your eye doctor every year. Cataracts are detected by a comprehensive eye exam. Even if your doctor finds a cataract, it may be a long while before you will need to consider having the cataract removed. You may be able to improve the early symptoms with simple changes, like new eyeglasses or brighter lighting. If, however, your vision loss is severe enough to interfere with your normal activities, you might want to talk to your doctor about having surgery to remove the cataracts.

Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It also is one of the safest and most effective. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward. You can expect temporary blurred vision while your healing eye adjusts and “learns” to focus with your other eye, but more serious complications are not likely. Rarely, infection, bleeding, inflammation (pain, redness, swelling), loss of vision, double vision, and high or low eye pressure can occur but are usually treated successfully with prompt attention.

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