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Eye Health Library / Eye Exam & Diagnoses
When the normally clear lens within your eye becomes cloudy and opaque, it is called a cataract. Cataracts vary from extremely small areas of cloudiness to large opaque areas that cause a noticeable blurring of vision.
Cataracts are a function of aging and are most often found in people over the age of 60, although they are also occasionally found in younger people, including newborns. If a child is born with a cataract, it is referred to as a congenital cataract.
Cataracts are the result of aging changes that occur within your eyes that cause the lenses to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age or it may be the result of heredity, an injury or a disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (present in sunlight), cigarette smoke, certain systemic conditions, or the use of certain medications are also risk factors for the development of cataracts. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes, but often at different rates.
Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming. Wearing sunglasses is a tremendous benefit as they protect your lens from harmful UV rays, which can speed up cataract formation. A diet rich in antioxidants (such as Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc Selenium & Magnesium) can also be beneficial.
Some indications that a cataract may be forming include blurred or hazy vision that cannot be corrected by changing the glasses prescription, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes that does not go away with blinking. A temporary change in distance and/or near vision may also occur. An increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night may be experienced. Cataracts develop without pain or redness.
A comprehensive eye examination by a doctor of optometry can determine if you have a cataract forming.
In the early stages of a cataract, where vision is only minimally affected, your doctor of optometry can sometimes prescribe new lenses for your glasses to give you the sharpest vision possible. When the cataracts start to interfere with your daily activities and glasses cannot improve this vision, your doctor of optometry will refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataracts.
Cataracts may develop slowly over many years or they may form rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to the point that they need to be removed. When a change in glasses can no longer provide functional vision, and the cataract is starting to interfere with your daily activities, your doctor of optometry will arrange a consultation with a cataract surgeon.
The old cloudy lens is removed and an intraocular lens implant, inserted in your eye at the time of surgery, serves as a new lens. Sometimes the lens implant can give you good enough distance vision that you may not require glasses. Your near vision will still be blurred, so you may need glasses to read. Your doctor of optometry will prescribe new lenses for your glasses about four to six weeks after surgery to maximize your distance and near vision. Before surgery, your doctor of optometry may recommend lens implant options with new “specialized” intraocular lenses designed to minimize your need for glasses following the surgery.