A cataract is a loss of transparency, or clouding, of the normally clear lens of the eye. As one ages, chemical changes occur in the lens that make it less transparent. The loss of transparency may be so mild that vision is hardly affected, or so severe that no shapes or movements are seen – only light and dark. When the lens gets cloudy enough to obstruct vision to any significant degree, it is called a cataract. Glasses or contact lenses cannot sharpen your vision if a cataract is present.
The most common cause of cataract is aging. Other causes include trauma, medications such as steroids, systemic diseases such as diabetes, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light.
Typically, cataracts cause a slow, progressive, and painless decrease in vision. Symptoms include:
- Blurring of vision
- Glare, particularly at night
- Frequent eyeglass prescription change
- A decrease in color intensity; a yellowing of images
- Double vision in one eye
Reducing the amount of ultraviolet light exposure by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses may reduce your risk for developing a cataract. Avoiding smoking and taking a multi-vitamin may also decrease the risk of cataracts.
How do you know when it is time to have a cataract removed? The answer is quite simple. The time to have your cataract removed is when you believe your quality of life would be improved if you could see better.
Cataract surgery is a very successful operation. Three million people have this procedure every year; and according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, more than 98 percent have a perfect result. As with any surgical procedure, complications can occur during or after surgery and some are severe enough to limit vision. But in the majority of cases, vision, as well as quality of life, improves significantly.