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Cataracts 101

March 15th, 2012 Healthy Living

Chances are you or someone in your family will have to deal with cataracts at some point in your lives. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of all Americans will have had a cataract or surgery to prevent them by the time they reach 80 years of age. But what are they, exactly? Essentially, cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded over, which can result in blurred vision. They can occur in one or both eyes and are not contagious. If you're more curious about where they come from and how to deal with them, here's some more information on cataracts.

1. How they develop. There are two main ways in which age-related cataracts develop. The first involves the proteins in your eye. The lens of the eye is primarily made up of water and protein. Over time, those proteins can start to clump together, which reduces the amount of light that actually reaches your retina, thereby blurring and diminishing your vision. This tends to occur fairly slowly, so at first an individual may not even notice his or her vision worsening. However, over time, protein clumps can grow larger, gradually making it more difficult to see.

The other way in which cataracts develop is through what's known as "lens discoloration." As you age, the lens in your eye may slowly start to change color, gradually filling your vision with a brownish shade. This doesn't affect the clarity or sharpness of your vision, but the new shade of color may make it difficult to distinguish objects from one another. Discoloration also makes it difficult to identify blues and purples, which can be an inconvenience from time to time.

2. Common symptoms. Cataracts make themselves known in a few different ways. The most common symptoms are blurred or clouded vision. Colors may seem faded and lights may glare somewhat dramatically when looked at. They may also seem very bright and uncomfortable.

Early in the cataract's development, some people may experience double vision in one eye, though this can clear up as it grows larger. If you've had to to change your eyewear prescription somewhat frequently, it could be the sign of a developing cataract and you may want to visit an opthamologist for further testing.

3. Treatment. There are a few ways to find relief from cataracts, ranging from the simple to the surgical. New eyeglasses or changes to the lighting in your home may be all it takes to find relief. However, some cataracts may be more serious, in which case surgery is a viable treatment method. Note that this step is only necessary if your cataracts are starting to adversely affect your life, according to the Mayo Clinic. Luckily, it's not a decision that has to be made quickly - in general, there's no rush. Delaying the procedure will not cause any serious long-term damage.

Your doctor can give advice as to the best course of action. Although cataracts can be frustrating to deal with, they are generally fairly easy to take care of and don't bring the risk of more serious illness. In many ways, they're almost inevitable. If you see that your vision is starting to diminish a bit, it may be worthwhile to visit a doctor and receive a professional opinion. Armed with the facts, you'll be able to make an informed decision regarding your next course of action.