A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens, which causes blurred vision. It's a very common condition. By the age of 80, one out of two people will develop a cataract. Some people have a cataract in just one eye, others in both. Cataracts are not contagious and cannot spread from one eye to the other. It's very important to have regular eye exams, even if you don't wear glasses. Once detected, a cataract can be removed with a relatively simple surgery.
The most common symptom of a cataract is blurred vision. If the cataract is large enough, you will notice it without a formal diagnosis. You may also notice that colors don't look as bright as they used to, or the headlight lamps seem too bright. Many elderly people with cataracts have night blindness. The quality of their night vision decreases dramatically. Some also experience double vision in one or both eyes.
An ophthalmologist can detect early signs of cataracts before vision becomes noticeably blurred. This is done through an eye exam. A standard exam begins with a visual acuity test (reading an eye chart). Next, the doctor will place dilating drops in your eyes and examine them with a magnifying lens. Lastly, the doctor will measure the pressure inside your eye using an instrument called a tonometer.
The vast majority of cataracts are related to aging. However, there are other circumstances that can cause cataracts. If you've had other types of eye surgery, you could be at risk for developing a secondary cataract. Traumatic cataracts can occur as a result of eye injury. If you've been exposed to radiation, you may develop radiation cataracts. Some children are either born with congenial cataracts, or develop them later in their childhood. These types of cataracts may or may not affect vision. If they do, they must be removed through eye surgery.
If you have very mild cataracts, brighter lighting and a pair eyeglasses may be enough to improve your vision. However, the only effective long-term treatment is surgery. There are two main types of surgery used to remove cataracts. Phacoemulsification surgery, also known as small incision, involves the surgeon making an incision on the side of the cornea. A probe is then inserted, which breaks up the cataract using ultrasound waves. The pieces are then suctioned out of your eye. With extracapsular surgery, the incision is bigger so the cataract can be removed as a single piece.
Like all types of surgery, cataract removal surgery is not without risks. Some people may develop an infection following eye surgery. The best way to prevent this is to wash your hands regularly and not touch your eyes. There is also a small chance of retinal detachment, which is increased if you have other eye disorders, such as myopia. Overall, though, cataract surgery is one of the safest, most effective surgeries you can have. For most people, the benefits of clear vision outweigh the risks.