Cataracts - Schepens Eye Research Institute

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery

How do cataracts develop?

Most age-related cataracts develop because of clumps of protein in the lens that reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. The lens consists mostly of water and protein. When the protein clumps up, it clouds the lens and reduces the light that reaches the retina. The clouding may become severe enough to cause blurred vision. Over time, the cloudy area in the lens may get larger, and the cataract may increase in size. Seeing may become more difficult, and vision may get duller or blurrier.

Who is at risk for cataract?

The risk of cataract increases as you get older. Other risk factors for cataract include:

  • Certain diseases (for example, diabetes)

  • Personal behavior (smoking, alcohol use)

  • The environment (prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight)

What can I do to protect my vision?

Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.

If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataract, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.

How is a cataract treated?

The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.

Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward.

What is Schepens Eye Research Institute doing about it?

The National Eye Institute is conducting and supporting a number of studies focusing on factors associated with the development of age-related cataract. These studies include:

  • The effect of sunlight exposure, which may be associated with an increased risk of cataract.

  • Vitamin supplements, which have shown varying results in delaying the progression of cataract.

  • Genetic studies, which show promise for better understanding cataract development.