What Is a Cataract and Why Do They Form?

Cataracts

What is a cataract?

A cataract is the name we give the condition that causes the lens of our eye to become clouded over.

The retina of the eye can only receive a sharp, clearly focussed image when the lens is healthy and clear. Our vision will be blurred if a cataract clouds the lens. Having a cataract might feel a bit like looking through a fogged-up window or frosted glass.

Why do cataracts form?

The lens of our eye is made mostly of protein and water. The protein strands are arranged so precisely that the lens remains clear and the light can pass through. Aging and other health conditions can cause the proteins to break down, and the loosened strands may start to clump together. The cluster of clumped protein strands makes up the surface area of the cataract.

A cataract clouds the lens and blocks the light as it passes through. This prevents a clear image from reaching your retina, resulting in blurred vision.

At first, the cloudiness in our vision may affect only a small part of the eye’s lens. We may not even be aware of any disturbance to our vision. As the clumping grows, the surface area of the cataract grows larger, and our vision deteriorates.

How does a cataract affect your vision?

Over time it becomes more difficult to perform daily activities like driving, reading or using a computer. Other symptoms include increased difficulty seeing at night, increased sensitivity to light, double vision in the affected eye and seeing halos around lights.

Am I at risk?

Besides age and injury, other factors could increase your risk of developing cataracts. These factors include diabetes, obesity, hypertension, smoking, radiation or prolonged use of corticosteroid medications.

A cataract can form in one or both eyes. It is not contagious which means that it can’t spread from one eye to the other but, instead, can grow independently in both.

What can be done?

At first, you should be able to compensate for the cloudiness with stronger lighting or prescription eyeglasses. You may need eye cataract surgery if your vision is impaired to the point that it interferes with your daily activities. This is a common surgery that can offer a high degree of long-term success. The specific type and size of cataract you have will help determine the best cataract surgery for you.

When should I see a doctor?

It’s important to see your optometrist for an eye exam if your vision deteriorates to the point that you are no longer comfortable performing daily tasks. Other red flags that require attention are: if you develop sudden changes to your vision, you see flashes of light or double vision, or if you develop sudden pain in your eye.

The way forward

If you think you have a cataract, see an optometrist for an eye exam. If your optometrist confirms you have a cataract, then they will probably recommend eye cataract surgery. They will also help you choose the best cataract surgery for your situation.

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