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What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are often brought up during an eye exam, but what exactly are cataracts? We begin by understanding the anatomy of the eye. Sitting right behind the iris, the colored part of our eye, the lens is responsible for focusing on objects at distance and near. The lens must remain clear for light to pass through it.

The lens hardens and becomes yellow over time and will eventually cause cloudy vision, similar to looking through thick fog or a dirty window. As the lens changes, it is now termed as a cataract. Cataracts are benign and part of the normal aging process of the eye and is treated by cataract surgery. However, untreated cataracts can result in blindness.


bright clear sunflower on left labeled clear lens, dull blurry sunflower on right labeled cataract


Types of Cataracts

There are several types, but these are the three primary age-related cataracts. The lens is made of different layers like an onion. Each type of cataract affects a different layer of the lens. A person may have one type of cataract or a combination of the three.

  • Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract
    • This is the most common age-related cataract. The cloudiness of the lens is located in the central part of your lens.
  • Cortical Cataract
    • This cataract affects the outer parts of your lens and appears as spokes of a wheel.
  • Posterior Subcapsular Cataract
    • This type of cataract affects the back surface of the lens.


What Causes Cataracts?

Most cataracts are due to age. The proteins in the lens breakdown over time and clump up to result in a cloudy lens. Other factors that may contribute to the formation include:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • Smoking
  • Nutritional Deficiency
  • Trauma
  • Diabetes
  • Corticosteroids


How Do I Know If I Have Cataracts?

Your eyecare provider will check for cataracts during your annual dilated eye examination. It is important to monitor the progression of cataracts as they can progress quickly or slowly depending on person to person.

You may also notice changes in vision as the cataract progresses, such as:

  • Blurry or cloudy vision
  • Faded colors
  • Haloes around light
  • Increased glare and light sensitivity
  • Difficulty seeing at night

Always consult with your eye doctor if you notice sudden changes in vision.


How Are Cataracts Treated?

If the cataracts are mild, a change in your glasses prescription will provide clearer vision. As the cataracts worsen, your eye doctor will recommend cataract surgery. This safe and commonly performed procedure removes the cataract and replaces it with an artificial lens.


Can I Prevent Cataracts?

Cataracts occur in every person, but you can take a few steps to protect your eyes and slow the progression.

  • Wear UV-protecting sunglasses
  • Discontinue smoking
  • Increase antioxidant vitamin consumption such as green leafy vegetables


Are You Experiencing Symptoms?

It is important to maintain good eye health by visiting your eye doctor regularly. If you or a loved one is in need of an eye exam, request an appointment online or call us at 703-724-9948. We look forward to seeing you!