Cataracts, once considered a “prescription for blindness”, are an inevitable condition for most people. Increasing in frequency with age, eventually everyone will develop cataracts of some degree.
They are the leading cause of vision loss among people age 40 and older. In fact, according to Prevent Blindness America, cataracts are more common than glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease… combined!
Your eye leverages its lens to focus on objects near and far. The lens is made up mostly of water and clear proteins (arranged in such a way that light easily passes through it). It’s the arrangement of the protein that enables light to freely pass to the retina.
As we age, these proteins clump together and alter their arrangement and structure. These clumps become more numerous and form what we call a “cataract”.
Cataract Risk Factors
While we don’t know for sure why cataracts develop, we have found lifestyle and other risk factors that influence their development. These include:
- UV light (from the Sun, tanning beds, and other sources)
- Diabetes (cataracts are part of the diabetic eye disease group)
- Corticosteroid medications (prolonged use)
- Certain cholesterol medications
- Prior eye injuries or surgeries
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Family history
As with any good eye disease, there are more than one type of cataracts. A rare type of cataract, called a congenital cataract, is linked with the development of amblyopa. The three most common are:
These form at the back of the lens and are more common in people taking high doses of steroid medications, or people living with diabetes.
These form in the nucleus of the lens and are generally associated with aging.
These form in the lens cortex (the part of the lens that surrounds the nucleus). They appear as opaque white “spokes” that work from the periphery to the centre of your vision (like bike spokes).
There is currently only one type of treatment approved to treat cataracts: cataract removal surgery. Other options, such as increasing the power of your corrective lenses, are effective at temporarily improving your vision (the operative word being temporarily).
Learn more about cataract removal surgery.