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Cataracts

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Facts about cataracts

  • A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye.
  • Cataracts are extremely common, and most cataracts are a result of the aging process.
  • Although many cataracts are not significant enough to require treatment, surgical removal of cataracts is usually safe and effective, resulting in improvement of vision.
  • Cataract surgery should be performed when the visual loss from the cataract significantly impacts the lifestyle of the individual patient.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is an eye disease in which the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, causing a decrease in vision. Although the word cataract to describe this condition has been part of the English language only since the middle of the 16th century, the eye disease has been recognized and surgically treated since ancient times.

Eyeball Illustration - Cataracts
Eyeball Illustration - Cataracts

The lens is a portion of the eye that is normally clear. It focuses rays of light entering the eye onto the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. In order to get a clear image onto the retina, the portions of the eye in front of the retina, including the lens, must be clear and transparent. The light initiates a chemical reaction within the retina. The chemical reaction, in turn, initiates an electrical response which is carried to the brain through the optic nerve. The brain then interprets what the eye sees.

In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image striking the retina will be blurry and the vision will be blurry. The extent of the visual disturbance is dependent upon the degree of cloudiness of the lens.

Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have some degree of cataract or have already undergone cataract surgery in one or both eyes. By age 95, this percentage increases to almost 100%. A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. Individuals with a cataract in one eye usually go on to develop a cataract in the other eye as well. A cataract is not contagious and cannot spread from one eye to the other or from person to person. Cataracts do not cause the eye to tear abnormally. They are neither painful nor make the eye itchy or red.

Although vision can be restored in most people with cataracts, age-related cataracts are still the most common cause of blindness in the world, primarily because many third-world nations lack appropriate surgical services.

As life span increases in the developed world due to modern technology and new methods of treatment of acute and chronic disease, the incidence of age-related cataracts will continue to increase.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/13/2013

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Cataracts - Symptoms Question: Did you have any symptoms of cataracts, or were they diagnosed during an eye exam? Please share your experience.
Cataracts - Treatments Question: What kinds of treatment or surgery did you have for your cataracts?
Cataracts - Experience Question: How old were you when cataracts were discovered? Please describe your experience.
Cataracts - Surgery Question: What type of surgery did you have for cataracts? Please describe the procedure.
Cataracts - Complications Question: Did you or someone you know have a complication with a cataract or surgery? Please discuss the experience.
Source: MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/cataracts/article.htm

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