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What are Cataracts?

A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens.

  • In normal vision, light enters the eye, passing through the lens and is focused on the retina at the back of the eye.
  • When the lens is cloudy, light is blocked and the image that reaches the retina is out of focus, causing blurred or distorted vision.

Symptoms of Cataracts

  • Glare
  • Dull colors
  • Cloudy vision
  • Blurred vision

How Cataracts Form

The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up-close and far away. The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and allows light to pass through it.

As we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

A cataract can occur in either or both eyes, but it cannot spread from one eye to the other.
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How Age-related Cataracts Affect Your Vision

  1. Clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. 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. Cataracts tend to “grow” slowly, so vision gets worse gradually.
  2. The clear lens slowly changes to a yellowish/brownish color, adding a brownish tint to vision. At first, the amount of tinting may be small and may not cause a vision problem. Over time, increased tinting may make it more difficult to read and perform other routine activities. This gradual change in the amount of tinting does not affect the sharpness of the image transmitted to the retina.

Other Types of Cataracts

  • Secondary cataract: Cataracts can form after surgery for other eye problems such as glaucoma. Cataracts also can develop in people who have other health problems such as diabetes. Cataracts have also been linked to prolonged steroid use.
  • Traumatic cataract: Cataracts can develop after an eye injury, sometimes years later.
  • Congenital cataract: Some babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood, often in both eyes. These cataracts may be so small that they do not affect vision. If they do, the lenses may need to be removed.
  • Radiation cataract: Cataracts can develop after exposure to some types of radiation.

Risk Factors for Developing Cataracts

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

  • Certain diseases such as diabetes
  • Personal behavior such as smoking and alcohol use
  • The environment such as prolonged exposure to sunlight

If you are experiencing vision changes, schedule an eye exam to find out if cataracts are developing. We perform laser cataract surgery in the Olympia area to help patients restore clear vision.

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