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About Cataracts

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss over age 40, and worldwide it is the primary cause of blindness. More than 30 million Americans will have cataracts by the year 2020.

Cataracts tend to develop gradually, with symptoms slow to appear and intensify. The risk for developing cataracts increases significantly with age. Lifestyle factors, such as exposure to sun, also facilitate cataract development.

Types & Causes of Cataracts

There are three main types of cataracts:

  • Subcapsular cataract – The cataract forms at the back of the lens. Steroidal medications significantly improve the risk of developing this type of cataract.

  • Nuclear cataract – These cataracts form in the nucleus of the lens. These are most commonly associated with aging.

  • Cortical cataract – White, spoke-like opaque artifacts appear in your vision. This cataract occurs in the lens cortex.

Causes of Cataracts

The eye’s lens is made up of water and protein. The protein is arranged so that it is translucent. As we age, the configuration of the protein changes; it slumps together, obscuring vision. This is the beginnings of a cataract.

The exact cause of cataracts is still unknown. However, research has found that many risk factors influence cataract development. These include:

  • UV radiation from sunlight (tanning beds and other artificial sources also contribute)
  • Medical concerns, such as diabetes and obesity
  • Lifestyle factors, such as smoking
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid medications
  • Family history/genetics
  • Hypertension
  • Prior eye injury or surgery
  • Certain types of medications
  • Hormone replacement therapy

Treating Cataracts

Currently, the only FDA-approved treatment for cataracts is cataract removal surgery. This surgery is relatively routine and quite safe, with millions of procedures being performed in the United States every year.

Alternative, non-invasive treatments are currently being developed and tested. However, they are not available for general use at this time.

Learn more about cataract treatment.