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What are cataracts?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens. The lens is the opening where light passes through the eye. It is normally clear and focuses the light onto the retina (back of the eye). With cataracts, the cloudy lens makes it hard for light to pass through. This causes problems with correctly focusing what you see on the retina. Your vision may be cloudy, hazy, and blurred. You may develop a cataract in one or both eyes. It is not known exactly what causes a cataract.

What increases my risk of cataracts?

People 65 years of age or older are more likely to have a cataract than younger people. Cells that make up the lens change and may form cataracts in old age. Any of the following can increase your risk for cataracts:

  • Metabolic diseases: This includes diabetes, low blood calcium, and high blood pressure.

  • Trauma: A strong blow to the eye or your eyes being exposed to sunlight and x-rays can cause cataracts.

  • Infections: Cataracts may be caused by infections.

  • Medicines, tobacco, and alcohol: Steroid use, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking increase your risk.

  • Poor nutrition: A diet that does not contain enough vitamins, minerals, and protein increases your risk.

  • Dehydration: Dehydration may also increase the risk of cataracts.

What are the signs and symptoms of cataracts?

The most common symptom of a cataract is an increasing loss of vision. Other signs and symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Cloudy, foggy, fuzzy, or hazy blurring of vision

  • Problems driving at night or in bright sunlight

  • Double vision

  • Problem seeing shades of colors

How are cataracts diagnosed?

  • Visual acuity test: Your vision, eye pressure, and eye movements are checked with this test.

  • Ophthalmoscopy: An instrument called an ophthalmoscope is used to see the back of your eyes. Eye drops may be used to dilate your pupils.

  • Slit-lamp test: This test uses a microscope with a strong light to look into your eyes.

How are cataracts treated?

  • Nonsurgical: Glasses or contact lenses may be able to correct your vision. You can also use a magnifying glass when you read.

  • Surgical: You may need surgery to remove your cataract when your decrease in vision affects your work or daily activities. An artificial lens will be put into your eye to replace the damaged lens.

How can I protect my eyes?

  • Wear sunglasses: This will help protect your eyes from the sunlight and prevent eye discomfort.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are more likely to have heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and other health problems if you smoke. You will improve your health and the health of those around you if you quit. If you smoke, ask for information about how to stop.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

  • You suddenly lose your eyesight.

  • You feel a sudden, sharp pain in your eye.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.