A cataract is a cloudiness or opacification that develops within the normally clear lens of the eye. This is a normal part of the aging process, and almost everyone who lives long enough will develop cataracts in some form. All light entering the eye must pass through the lens. When we are born the lens is crystal clear and flexible, allowing light to be focused perfectly on the retina and allowing us to see sharp and clear. Over time, the lens turns yellow and cloudy. This cloudiness usually worsens until it scatters or blocks the light trying to enter the eye, causing glare problems and dim, blurry, or distorted vision. When the clear lens becomes milky or dirty looking, it is called a cataract. Luckily, most cataracts develop slowly over time and may take several years before seriously affecting a person’s vision. A person with cataracts cannot see clearly and colors may appear dim and faded.
Cataracts can occur at any age but are most common after age 50. Other causes include injuries or trauma to the eye, ultraviolet sunlight, diabetes (doubles cataract risk), eye surgeries, smoking, high cholesterol and certain medications such as steroids (prednisone) pills, nasal sprays or injections.
As cataracts develop, a person may notice problems such as difficulty focusing, blurred or distorted vision, or glare from headlights or sunlight. Your eye doctor will usually discover developing cataracts in the course of your dilated eye exam. When the cataract begins to interfere with normal daily activities, your eye doctor will usually recommend surgery, the only known cure for cataracts.
The three main types of cataracts are:
Nuclear – a yellowing of the lens similar appearing to smog color air
Cortical – clefts and spikes like icicles which cause blur and glare
Posterior Subcapsular – appears like frost on a windshield and causes glare