A cataract is a painless condition of the eye that manifests as a clouding of the eye’s lens and clinically obstructs the passage of light to the retina. The retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue located in the back of the eye that is attached to the optic nerve, the part of the eye responsible for sending signals to the brain and creating pictures. Cataracts usually develop gradually. In the first stages, patients may notice a slight haziness in their vision, and as the condition progresses, it can cover the entire eye making it difficult to see clearly. Patient s with severe cataracts may describe their vision as fog hanging over their eyes. This common condition usually occurs in older adults, and according to the National Eye Institute, more than half the U.S. population will have had cataracts or cataract surgery by the time they are 80 years old.
Aging and sun exposure are the most common cause of cataracts, but the disease can also occur after an eye injury or as a result of eye disease. Cataracts develop in four different ways.
- Secondary cataracts can occur after surgery has been performed on the eye, or as a result of another disease, such as glaucoma or diabetes.
- Traumatic cataracts result from an injury to the eye.
- Congenital cataracts are less common. An individual can be born with this condition, or the onset can happen in early childhood.
- Radiation cataracts result from high exposure to radiation.
Patients with associated risk factors, such as age, family history, health conditions (including diabetes or glaucoma), injuries, exposure to sunlight or radiation and smoking are more likely to develop this condition.
Surgery is a common treatment for patients with cataracts. During this surgical procedure, the physician will remove the damaged lens and replace it with an artificial one, giving the patient clearer vision.