Cataracts affect more than 22 million Americans over the age of 40. A cataract develops when the lens of an eye becomes clouded and distorts the light that hits the retina. Most cataracts develop due to the natural aging process, although we diagnose a few other types of cataracts in our patients as well.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness and the most common reason for vision loss in people over 40 worldwide.
Cataracts are very common—but luckily they’re also easy to treat. If you’re developing cataracts, you may be able to improve your vision effectively through the use of corrective lenses and better lighting early on. Eventually, though, cataract surgery becomes the only way to treat cataracts. This procedure is the most common surgery in the U.S., and about three million patients get it each year. It is a simple, safe procedure that doesn’t cause much pain or require a long recovery period. The surgery is generally very successful, with about 9 in 10 patients regaining vision that’s 20/40 or better.
Causes and Types of Cataracts
Most cataracts are age-related. These can develop throughout the natural aging process and typically appear in your 40s or later. About 50% of our patients have had a cataract by the age of 80. No one knows exactly why the eye forms cataracts due to aging, though certain vitamin deficiencies and health concerns are considered contributing factors. Cataracts form when the protein cells in your eyes begin clumping together. Along with age-related cataracts, there are several other causes of this condition, including:
- Secondary Cataract—Certain medical conditions can cause cataracts to form in the eye, including glaucoma and diabetes. Exposure to some medications and toxins including radiation, steroids, statin medicines, UV light, diuretics, excessive alcohol, corticosteroids and cigarette smoke also can result in the development of cataracts.
- Traumatic Cataract—Eye injuries can cause cataracts to develop. This can occur soon after the trauma or years down the road.
- Congenital Cataract—Though it is relatively rare, some infants are born with cataracts or develop them at a young age. The causes of congenital cataracts include genetics, injury, infection and subpar development.
Cataracts of any cause can form in many locations in the eye. These types of cataracts include:
- Cortical Cataracts—These cataracts start at the edge of your lens’s cortex and work their way toward the center. If you have cortical cataracts, you’ll likely notice problems with glare before your condition is diagnosed.
- Subcapsular Cataracts—This condition affects the back of the lens and stands right in the way of the light traveling to your retina. Subcapsular conditions impact close-up eyesight and your vision in bright lighting. You may notice halos around lights at night before diagnosis.
- Nuclear Cataracts—Nuclear cataracts affect the center of your lens. They cause nearsightedness and a yellowing of the lens. Sometimes they improve reading vision temporarily before it gets worse as the cataract develops.