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Why You Need To Watch For Cataracts

Close-up of the senile cataract during an eye examination

It’s estimated more than 24 million Americans, age 40 and older, have cataracts. This painless clouding of the lens of the eye can cause serious problems.  But cataracts can be easily treated, especially if you catch certain symptoms early. 

Highlights from the interview with Dr. Preston H. Blomquist,  Chief of the Ophthalmology Service at Parkland Hospital and Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Ophthalmology Department at UT Southwestern Medical Center, about symptoms of cataracts to watch for:

What are cataracts: “A cataract is a painless clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is located in the eye behind the colored iris and just behind the pupil. Normally the lens is clear and helps to focus light entering the eye onto the retina. That’s the specialized nerve area at the back of the eye. The retina transfers that information to the brain where we interpret the electrical impulses as sight.

Can cataracts cause blindness? “Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness worldwide, and account for half the treatable visual impairment in people over 40. One in every six Americans over 40 have cataracts and half of people over 80 do. But it’s easily treated. Simple cataract surgery can remove the cataract and restore vision by placing an artificial lens implant back in the eye to refocus the light rays onto the retina.”

Surgery isn’t always needed: “An early cataract – it may be that just changing the glasses prescription is enough to improve visual.  But when it’s not sufficient and patients can’t do their activities of daily living, they don’t enjoy life to the fullest, that’s when cataract surgery is indicated.”

Risk factors for cataracts: “It’s strongly associated with aging, Lifetime exposure to sun and ultraviolet light. Smoking. And exposure to certain medicines like corticosteroids. Some chronic health conditions like diabetes also accelerate cataract formation.”

Symptoms: “The most common symptom is a clouding or a blurring of the vision making it hard to read or see traffic signs or recognize faces. There may be a change in color perception. Some cataracts cause difficulty with glare. If you’re changing your glasses prescription frequently, that may be a sign of cataracts. And some cataracts will cause a splitting of the light rays so that you may see double or even triple images, even with one eye closed.”

For more information:

National Eye Institute: Facts about Cataract 

American OptometricAssociation: Cataract 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.