Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become cloudy. At first they may not affect your vision at all, but as they become larger your vision will become increasingly blurred – it will be like looking through frosted glass all the time – until eventually you may lose all your functional vision in your affected eye(s).
You may also notice other symptoms in addition to the blurring of your vision. Cataracts can make sunlight or lamplight appear too bright or glaring. Oncoming headlights when you are driving at night can be another problem as they may cause more glare than they did before. You might also find that colors do not seem as bright as they once did.
Some people find that they become increasingly nearsighted and they require frequent changes in their glasses prescription. Whilst changing your prescription might initially help, eventually, as the cataract grows, stronger glasses or contact lenses will no longer improve your vision.
There are a number of different types of cataracts – and the type of cataract will affect exactly which symptoms you experience and how quickly they will occur. The most common type of cataract develops almost exclusively in those over the age of 60, although the underlying damage that eventually leads to the cataract formation usually begins decades earlier. These cataracts often start as a discoloration of the lens. As the localized structural damage grows, so vision problems occur.
It’s vitally important that you have cataracts properly diagnosed by a qualified eye care professional. People sometimes confuse a condition called nuclear sclerosis with the development of cataracts because nuclear sclerosis (a hardening of the lens of the eye) causes the lens to become less translucent. This gives it a grey or pearly appearance. Fortunately nuclear sclerosis does not usually significantly interfere with a person’s vision.
It’s important to remember that cataracts are not cancerous, are not infectious (they can’t spread from one eye to the other) and do not affect other structures in your eye.
Once diagnosed, do not panic. They can be treated and are not a cause of irreversible blindness. Your optometrist may recommend surgery. Cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision. In fact, it is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with more than 3 million Americans undergoing cataract surgery each year, according to PBA. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision, somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40.
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