A cataract is clouding of the lens of the eye, which is normally clear. The lens is a clear part of the eye that helps to focus light, or an image, on the retina, which is tissue at the back of the eye. As a result, having a cataract is like seeing through a foggy window. The clouded vision makes it more difficult to read, see facial expressions of others, or even drive a car. Most cataracts develop slowly, and thus only gradually interfere with the eyesight.
Cataracts are most likely to develop as a result of aging (usually after 60 years of age). In fact, by age 80, more than half of all Americans have a cataract or have had cataract surgery for one. They can occur in one eye or both eyes, but they don’t spread from one eye to the other. As we age, the protein and water that make up the lens begin to clump together, and involve a small area of the lens. Over time, the cataract may grow, clouding more of the lens and making it harder to see. A cataract can also develop after injury to the eye.
Any time a person develops a change in their vision, they should see a doctor at once. Also, persons over 60 years of age should have a dilated eye examination every two (2) years even if they have no visual problems, because treatment for early eye disease may save eyesight.
Early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. However, when vision loss interferes with everyday activities, like driving, reading, or watching TV, surgery is the only effective treatment. That involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an articial lens. However, it is not urgent to have cataract surgery. If a person needs cataract surgery in both eyes, it is done on one eye at a time, usually one to two months apart.