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What is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens in your eye. This causes images to appear cloudy, as if you are looking through a foggy window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night), or distinguish the details of a face from a distance. Most cataracts develop and progress slowly. They may not disturb your eyesight early on, but with time, cataracts will eventually interfere with your vision.

At first, brighter lighting and eyeglasses can help you overcome the blurred vision caused by cataracts. However, if glasses don’t work and the impaired vision interferes with your usual activities, you might need cataract surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is generally a safe, effective procedure.


Why Do Cataracts Form?

The lens is made mostly of water and protein. Specific proteins within the lens are responsible for maintaining its clarity. Over many years, the structures of these lens proteins are altered, ultimately leading to a gradual clouding of the lens. Rarely, cataracts can present at birth or in early childhood as a result of hereditary enzyme defects, and severe trauma to the eye, eye surgery, or intraocular inflammation can also cause cataracts to occur earlier in life. Other factors that may lead to development of cataracts at an earlier age include excessive ultraviolet-light exposure, diabetes, smoking, or the use of certain medications, such as oral, topical, or inhaled steroids. Other medications that are more weakly associated with cataracts include the long-term use of statins and phenothiazines.


Cataract Facts

  • The term cataract is derived from the Greek word cataractos, which describes rapidly running water. When water is turbulent, it becomes white and cloudy.
  • Cataract development is usually a gradual process of aging, but can sometimes occur rapidly. Some people may be unaware that they have cataracts because the change in vision was so gradual. Cataracts commonly affect both eyes, but they can progress asymmetrically.
  • Cataracts affect ~60% of people over the age of 60, and over 1.5 million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States each year. This leads to over 8 million physician office visits a year in the United States. This number will likely continue to increase as the proportion of people over the age of 60 rises. Worldwide, cataracts are the #1 cause of reversible blindness.
  • Cataracts cause difficulty with activities people need to do for daily living or for enjoyment. Some of the most common complaints include difficulty driving at night, reading, participating in sports such as golfing, or traveling to unfamiliar areas.

Learn more about Cataract Surgery