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What are cataracts?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s internal lens, which is situated behind the Iris. This results in reduced vision and a ‘dulling’ of colors. The lens consists mostly of water and protein, and a fine balance of these two elements must exist in order to maintain clear vision. As we age the chemical balance of our internal lens changes, resulting in a yellowing and clouding.

When should cataracts be treated?

Age related cataracts will affect just about all of us if we live long enough, however other contributing factors can speed up the development of cataracts. Diabetes and lifestyle behaviors such as smoking can accelerate their development, as can severe ocular trauma, long-term use of certain medications and excessive ultraviolet exposure.

As a cataract becomes denser, patients frequently describe their vision as being blurry or hazy, with many experiencing bothersome glare from the sun or a light source. Some patients describe colors as appearing less vivid and bright and eventually driving, reading and other daily activities become challenging. Ultimately surgery is indicated when a patient’s lifestyle becomes affected due to a reduction in vision. By the age of 75, most people will begin to notice some reduced vision due to cataracts.

How are cataracts treated?

Once the surgery is indicated, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye and a replacement intraocular lens (IOL), is inserted behind the iris in place of the original lens.

Although any surgery can potentially have complications, cataract removal is very successful in the hands of a skilled surgeon. In fact, the procedure is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States, with over 1.5 million done each year. The surgery is done on an outpatient basis and recovery is approximately two weeks. When surgery is indicated in both eyes a 2-3 week waiting period is usual between the two procedures.

For more information on cataracts, visit The National Institutes of Health.

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