What are Cataracts?

Mature CataractA cataract is a clouding of the normally clear and transparent lens of the eye which is located behind the pupil. When the lens becomes cloudy from age, injury or a birth defect, less focused light reaches the interior of the eye and vision gradually fails.

Symptoms of cataracts range from a barely noticeable loss of vision to virtual blindness. The first symptom may be difficulty in performing routine tasks. Fuzzy or blurred vision, frequent changes in glasses, double vision in one eye, problems reading, decreased color perception and poor night vision are common symptoms. Night driving may be a particular problem. Vision may fluctuate from normal to almost complete blindness under bright light or glare conditions.

There are many misconceptions regarding cataracts. Cataracts are not a film over the eye, they are not caused by overusing the eye, they are not a cancer. They cannot spread from one eye to the other and they are not a cause of irreversible blindness.

There are many causes of cataracts. The most common cause of cataract is related to aging. Other causes of cataracts include family history of cataract, diabetes, injury to the eye, oral steroid medications, previous eye surgery and long-term unprotected exposure to the sun.

Most cataracts that are associated with aging progress slowly. Some patients do not notice the extent of their visual loss because of the slow onset.

Other cataracts, especially in younger people and patients with systemic disease such as diabetes, progress rapidly over a few months and vision deteriorates quickly. It is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will progress in any given patient.

There may be other reasons for visual loss in addition to the cataract, particularly problems involving the retina or optic nerve. If these problems are present, perfect vision may not return after cataract removal. If such conditions are severe, removal of the cataract may not result in any improvement of vision. Your ophthalmologist can tell you how much visual improvement is likely.

Surgery is the only way your ophthalmologist can remove the cataract. However, if symptoms from a cataract are mild, a change of glasses may be all that is needed to for you to function more comfortably.

Cataract surgery can be performed when your visual needs require it. You must decide if you can see to do your job and drive safely, if you can read and watch TV in comfort. Can you perform daily tasks, such as cooking, shopping, yard work or taking medications without difficulty?

Based on your symptoms, you and your ophthalmologist should decide together when surgery is appropriate.

Over 1.4 million people have cataract each year in the United States, 95% without complications.

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If you have questions about cataracts or are searching for a Board-Certified Cataract Surgeon, we encourage you to contact us here at Ophthalmology Associates- The Cornea and Laser Vision Institute. With three locations in the Central Eastern Missouri region, we are proud to serve the surrounding communities of St. Louis, St. Peters and Sullivan.

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