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  • Writer's pictureGregg Moody, M.D.

Cataracts 101

What is a cataract? A cataract is the clouding of the natural lens inside your eye. The main job of the lens is to focus light rays into the eye to help us see. As cataracts develop light cannot pass through clearly, causing you to lose some of your eyesight. There are several causes of cataracts, but natural aging is the most common cause by far. Other causes include trauma, cataracts secondary to other medical conditions, or congenital cataracts. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have cataracts or will have had cataract surgery.

What are the symptoms of cataracts? Cataracts usually form slowly. You may not know you have them in the earlier stages. Then you might notice vision that’s cloudy, blurry, foggy, or filmy. Other symptoms include problems driving at night due to glare, changes in the way you see color, or double vision in the affected eye.

Can cataracts be prevented? There is significant controversy about whether cataracts can be prevented. Some studies have suggested certain nutrients and supplements may reduce your risk of cataracts. The largest study showed diets high in vitamin E which is found in spinach, almonds, or sunflower seeds may help reduce the risk. Supplements include lutein and zeaxanthin found in leafy, green vegetables like spinach and kale.

How are cataracts diagnosed and treated? Your ophthalmologist can examine and test your eyes to diagnose cataracts. When symptoms begin to appear you may be able to improve your vision with glasses or other visual aids. Once your cataracts have progressed enough to significantly impair your vision and affect your daily life, surgery should be considered. Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the U.S. with more than 3 million Americans undergoing surgery each year. It is also highly successful with about 90 percent of those having surgery regaining very good vision.

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