A cataract is a clouding or darkening that develops in the normally clear lens of the eye. The typical age-related cataract usually can first be detected around age 55. There is a gladual yellowing of the lens and/or spoke like opacifications. Over the next 20 years or so, the yellowing and opacification become more dense, such that light cannot be easily transmitted through the lens to focus light onto the retina, the nerve layer of the inner eye that processes vision. Early signs of cataracts include increased glare, especially at night; overall loss of contrast causing increased haziness; colors lose their brightness; an increasing need for more light to see clearly and occasionally double vision.
As mentioned above, typically cataract formation occurs with advancing age, but there are certain types of cataract that affect younger people and even newborns
There is no proven way to prevent cataracts. There is a relationship between long term UV exposure and the development of cataracts and indeed people living at higher altitudes or more equatorial latitudes may develop cataracts earlier in life. It is wise to use UV absorbing sunglasses from a young age.
The developing cataract often causes changes in a person’s refractive error, such that more frequent glasses changes may be necessary. Because of advanced surgical techniques to deal with cataracts, it is no longer necessary to wait for a cataract to become “ripe” to take action. Usually when your optometrist can no longer provide a correction that makes you see comfortably and when the changes in your vision are affecting your lifestyle, it is time to undergo cataract surgery and you would be referred to an eye surgeon.
During cataract surgery, the opacified lens is removed from the eye at an outpatient surgicenter in a procedure that takes less than 30 minutes. The power generated by the removed lens needs to be replaced for clear, comfortable vision and an intraocular lens is typically placed into the eye during the surgery to achieve this. Current intraocular lenses are available to correct one’s distance vision, to correct astigmatism and there are also bifocal and focusing IOL’s that can make the new vision much like it was years ago!
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