A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Although this clouding usually causes blurry vision, it is not painful. Normally, the blurring increases gradually over months or years.
A mild clouding of the lens (or clouding at the edge of the lens) may not cause any symptoms at all. As the cataract grows, however, the patient may experience dimmed vision, blurriness, glare or light sensitivity, altered color perception and increased nearsightedness. Most cataracts occur in people over 60, but the disease can develop at any age and babies may be born with congenital cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by eye injury, diabetes, certain medications (such as corticosteroids), radiation treatment and ultraviolet light. You can decrease your chance of developing cataracts by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses.
Cataracts can be diagnosed through a dilated-pupil examination. The exam does not hurt, but your near vision will be blurry for 4 to 6 hours. For mild cataracts, a change in eyeglass prescription may provide some vision improvement. When your vision becomes so blurry that it makes daily activities such as reading and driving difficult, then cataract surgery should be considered.
In cataract surgery, the physician makes an incision in the eye and removes the cloudy lens, leaving behind the "skin" or capsule of the lens. The lens is replaced with an artificial lens that is clear and can also correct the eye for nearsightedness or farsightedness (though glasses or contacts may still be necessary). Surgery is done under topical or local anesthetic and it takes only 15 to 30 minutes. Following the procedure, the patient wears an eye patch for up to a day. It may take several weeks for the eye to heal completely and for the vision to stabilize, but some patients experience good vision on the day after surgery. Depending on your job, you may be able to return to work within a few days to a week.
The success rate for cataract surgery is about 95%. Possible risks include bleeding, infection, swelling, eye pressure problems, retina damage and (rarely) loss of vision. The lens capsule may become cloudy after several months or years. This cloudiness can be treated with a painless, in-office procedure to restore good vision.