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Cataract: Defined

What is a cataract?

We are all born with a clear natural lens in each eye, that rests comfortably behind the iris and focuses light into the back of the eye onto the retina. As we age into the 5th, 6th and 7th decades of life, this lens slowly opacifies as the clear proteins begin to naturally degrade. At this stage, the cloudy lens is referred to as a cataract. The protein degradation and lens clouding can be accelerated by exposure to ultraviolet light. The cataract may progress more quickly in one eye than the other, and most patients develop some degree of cataract in both eyes simultaneously.

Does it need treatment?

Upon first receiving the cataract diagnosis, if the cataract is in its early stages, the patient’s visual acuity is likely not impaired and nothing needs to be done. The cataract can be simply monitored on an annual basis. Over time, the protein degradation continues and the lens becomes more cloudy. In this situation, more advanced cataracts can cause symptoms of visual impairment, such as blurred vision with colors appearing less bright, as in this blurred photo of a beach. At night, driving can become more difficult as symptoms like glare and halos around lights and oncoming cars often make patients uncomfortable enough to desire treatment.

How is a cataract treated?

A cataract is treated with a highly successful and minimally invasive surgery that removes the opaque natural lens and replaces it with a clear artificial lens implant, most commonly made of a thin acrylic plastic, that remains in the eye for the rest of your life. The cataract cannot be treated in the office or with a laser, and it requires a small amount of time in the operating room with a high-resolution microscope. Cataract surgery has become the most common surgical procedure by annual volume, with more than three million Americans undergoing cataract surgery every year.

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