What is a Cataract?
A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy due to the abnormal clumping of proteins.
Did You Know?
- Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide
- You can get cataracts in one eye or both eyes — but they do not spread from one eye to the other
- By age 80, most people either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery
- Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations in the United States
How Common Are Cataracts
Cataract is a leading cause of vision loss in adults over 40 in the United States.1-4 Twenty-five million Americans are affected by cataracts. Overall prevalence rates increased from 2.5 percent for people ages 40 to 49, to 19.4 percent for those ages 60 to 69, and 42.2 percent of individuals ages 70 to 79. The number of Americans older than age 40 who will have a cataract in at least one eye is projected to be 33.6 million by 2045. 1-4
What Are the Symptoms?
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Colors look faded
- Lamps, sunlight, headlights seem too bright
- Poor night vision, see halo around lights
- Double vision
- Prescription changes often
How Is It Treated?
Not all cataracts require immediate treatment. Symptoms may be managed by using eyeglasses, sunglasses, and/or magnifying lenses. Eventually, most cataracts get worse over time until the vision impairment interferes with everyday functioning. At that point, the lens can be removed surgically and replaced with an artificial lens. A recent study found that subjects who underwent cataract surgery not only had improved vision but had nearly 30% lower risk of developing dementia from any cause compared with those who did not.
What Can I Do?
The most important risk factor for cataracts is the aging process itself. In fact, after age 40, the proteins in the lens of our eyes naturally start to break down.
Other risk factors include ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure (too much time in the sun without eye protection), smoking, and alcohol use.
Some health problems and treatments can also make cataracts more likely, including diabetes, serious eye injury, eye surgery, steroids and radiation treatment for cancer or other diseases.
To lower your risk of developing cataracts, reduce ultraviolet exposure by wearing sunglasses with UV protection and a hat with a brim in every season. Also avoid smoking and limit use of alcohol. Most importantly, make sure you get regular comprehensive eye exams.
Reminder. If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year!
1. Flaxman et al. Prevalence of Visual Acuity Loss or Blindness in the US. JAMA Ophthalmology. 2021; 2. Making Eye Health a Population Health Imperative: Vision for Tomorrow. National Academies Press. 2016; 3.Dougherty et al. Published Examination-based Prevalence of Major Eye Disorders, NORC and Vision Eye Health, 2018; 4. Vision & Eye Health Surveillance System (VEHSS) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 5. Lee et al. Association Between Cataract Extraction and Development of Dementia. JAMA Intern Med. 2022.