What Are Cataracts?

A cataract is an opacity of the lens of the eye that results in a clouding of vision that can progress to partial or total blindness. The lens of the eye is made of specialized cells that contain proteins called crystallins. These proteins and the unique arrangement of the cells allow light to pass through. Interestingly, unlike most other tissue in the body, the lens of the eye does not shed cells once they are no longer functional. Thus, as the cells of the lens become damaged as we age, the lens can begin to lose its transparency. When this happens, a cataracts develops.

Unlike other epithelia, the lens does not shed its nonviable cells. Thus, it is particularly susceptible to the degenerative effects of aging on cell structure. Some of the anatomic and ultrastructural correlates of lens opacity are known, although exact pathogenetic mechanisms are not. Epidemiologic and experimental evidence suggests that photo-oxidative insult, perhaps potentiated by toxic or sensitizing substances, plays a role.

What Causes Cataracts?

Most cataracts are “age related” meaning that they associated with getting older and may not have a clear cause. There are, however, several habits and general heath conditions that increase the likelihood of developing cataracts. These are listed below.

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Sunlight exposure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

The first sign of a cataract is a noticeable, persistent blurring of vision. This blurring is often first noticed as difficulty seeing in dim light, reading signs while driving, or reading small print. Cataracts are painless. While they very often develop in both eyes, there may be some asymmetry with respect to the onset and progression of symptoms between the eyes.

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