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How your eyes change: The lowdown on cataracts

» How cataracts are treated

Warning signs to watch for

According to The National Eye Institute, the following symptoms might mean that a cataract is forming. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor:

  • Hazy, fuzzy or blurred vision.
  • A frequent need for new eyeglasses.
  • A feeling of having a film over your eyes.
  • A change in the color of your pupil from the usual black to gray, yellow or white.
  • Problems with light (for example, finding the right amount of light when reading, or being bothered by sunlight glare or by headlight glare when driving at night).
  • A temporary improvement in reading vision. This might occur as a cataract progresses, but the gain doesn’t last long.

When not to have surgery

Although cataract surgery is safe, guidelines developed by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and endorsed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggest that a patient and his or her physician consider surgery only if glasses or other aids do not help, and the patient’s everyday functions are compromised by vision problems.

Chances are you know someone who has cataracts, since more than half of Americans have had cataracts or cataract surgery by age 80, according to the National Eye Institute.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. As we age, the normally transparent lens becomes opaque, leading to impaired vision. Researchers aren’t sure what causes cataracts, but chemical changes that occur in the lens over time likely play a role. By age 65, many people have some degree of lens clouding, although usually not enough to interfere with vision.

Cataracts develop gradually and without pain. For a list of symptoms, see “Warning signs to watch for.”

How cataracts are treated

Once a diagnosis of cataract is made, treatment often involves only a change in eyeglasses. However, if impaired vision is affecting your ability to function, cataract surgery may be necessary.

Cataract surgery is typically performed as an outpatient procedure under a local anesthetic. Following surgery, improved vision occurs almost immediately. Complications common to any type of surgery, such as bleeding or infection, may occur, but complications are rare. Cataracts need not interfere with your lifestyle. Talk with your eye doctor about your options.


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