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What Causes Cataracts?

August 19, 2019
Published in: General

close-up of a woman's face, focused on her eye

Did you know that by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or have had surgery for cataracts? That's an astonishing proportion of the United States. Maybe since it is often an affliction that strikes us when we are older, we do not give a lot of thought to what they are and how they might come about. The good news is that you can reduce the number of risk factors that seem to be linked to the development of cataracts. In addition, surgery for cataracts are common and can be performed as an outpatient procedure.

What are cataracts?

Anatomy of the eyeCataracts are clouds on the lens of the eye that can affect one's vision. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and the most common cause of vision loss after the age of 40. They come in three varieties—subcapsular cataracts, nuclear cataracts, and cortical cataracts. The main difference between these three types are where they are located, but they also lend themselves to different symptoms as they develop.

Symptoms of cataracts include clouded, blurred, or dimmed vision—as if one were looking at an impressionist painting—or sensitivity to light and glare. You may notice that you require more light for reading and other activities, or you may see "halo" around lights. Some cataracts may cause you to see fading or yellowing of colors, while others may cause double vision.

What cause cataracts?

The lens of the eye is made up of water and proteins. In a healthy eye, these proteins are arranged in a way that allows light, and thus images to pass through them clearly. Unfortunately, as we begin to age, some of these proteins can begin to clump together. As they do so, the images that pass through them begin to appear cloudy or hazy.

Different kinds of cataracts occur in different parts of the lens. A subcapsular cataract occurs at the back of the lens, a nuclear cataract forms deep in the central zone of the lens, and cortical cataracts start at the periphery of the lens and then work their way towards the center in a spoke-like fashion.

If one were to ask what causes those proteins to come out of alignment—well, the science is still out on that. There are things that have been identified as being increased risk factors, but there is nothing that can be translated as a one-for-one cause.

What are some risk factors associated with cataracts?

Man getting an eye examThe most prevalent factor in developing cataracts is one's age. Beyond that diabetes, excessive exposure to sunlight, smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure can all contribute to one's chances of developing cataracts. As a result, some of the things you can do to prevent cataracts are associated with preventing cataracts are tied to these risk factors. Quitting smoking, for instance, can be helpful for your health in dozens of ways on top of being a preventative measure for developing cataracts. Similarly, as diabetes is a risk factor, lowering one's excess weight and blood pressure can not only contribute to preventing cataracts but also developing diabetes - another risk factor to cataracts.

One of the best ways to prevent developing symptoms associated with cataracts is to have your eyes examined often—particularly after the age of 40.