A cataract is a clouding or darkening of the crystalline lens - the lens inside of the eye. This lens, located just behind the iris (the colored part of the eye) helps the eye adjust the focus between near and far, similar to the lens inside of a camera. Along with the cornea, this lens provides power to allow light and images to focus on the retina, allowing us to see clearly. When a cataract begins to form and the lens is no longer clear, visual disturbances can occur.
As we age, oxidative stresses and normal aging can dampen the lens ability to remove metabolic waste products, which can build up and cause the lens to become cloudy and brown. In addition, the proteins that make up the lens become less precisely arranged which degrades the optical properties of the lens. These changes can lead to a variety of vision issues.
The disorganized proteins can cause blur, glare issues and difficulty seeing at night. As the cataract progresses, the lens, which is usually clear, takes on a yellow or brown tint. This decreases the amount of light that can reach the retina and also distorts color perception. This yellow filter will degrade an individual’s ability to detect the blue end of the color spectrum. One of the first signs of a cataract can often be a glasses or contact lens prescription changes. As the cataract progresses, the power of the lens can increase or decrease, leading to a shift in the prescription.
Cataracts become more prevalent as we age and changes in vision from cataract development can happen quite gradually over time. Though some types of cataracts develop more quickly than others, cataract symptoms are often ignored by patients until their lifestyle begins to be affected by the decrease in vision.
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