June is National Cataract Awareness Month and I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about cataracts. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in the world, accounting for 51% of cases of blindness according to the World Health Organization. Of course that varies by country; the incidence of blindness due to cataract is much higher in undeveloped countries than in the United States. That is mostly due to earlier recognition, access to care and treatment options.

Many people think that a cataract is a film that develops over the eye. That’s because one of the symptoms is clouding of the vision, as if there is a film over it. A cataract is actually an opacification of the normally clear crystalline lens which is located inside the eye, behind the pupil, the opening in the colored part of the eye called the iris. For most of our lives, the lens is like a clear M&M shaped structure, which is responsible for focusing light onto the retina in the back of our eye, much like the lens on a camera. As we age, the normally clear lens becomes yellower, harder, and cloudier, so that light doesn’t go through as easily. Other causes of cataract may include trauma, diabetes, and certain medications, as well as a family history.

Because of this clouding, people may experience a variety of symptoms. The earliest symptom is often glare or haloes due to oncoming headlights at night, and for this reason many people begin to avoid night driving. Poor contrast sensitivity, doubling of images, and not being able to read road signs or TV captions are other common symptoms. Sometimes vague symptoms such as just not seeing as clearly as in the past, or needing frequent glasses changes may indicate the presence of cataracts.

An ophthalmologist can easily detect cataracts using the equipment in her office. If you are having any of the symptoms mentioned above, or any vision symptoms that are worsening, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor for an exam.

Stay tuned for the next article in which we will discuss treatment options!