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What is a cataract?

A cataract is the natural lens of the eye getting cloudy. As people age, chemical changes occur in the lens that cause this clouding. This loss of transparency may be so mild that vision is hardly affected, or so severe that no shapes or movements are seen, only light and dark. The pattern of the cloudiness varies with each person. Sometimes it is in the center, but it may also be around the edges of the lens so that the patient may not even be aware of it.

Cataracts do not hurt your eye, they just hinder your vision. Common symptoms of cataracts include: blurred vision, faded or yellowed colors, glare, light sensitivity, poor night vision and sometimes double vision in one eye.

Cataracts are most commonly caused by aging, but they also may be caused by trauma, prolonged use of steroid medications, radiation, previous eye surgery, systemic diseases (such as diabetes) and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light. Occasionally, babies are born with congenital cataracts.

A cataract is not a film over the eye, so you cannot see it from the outside unless it is so advanced it has become dense. Also, cataracts do not cause pain. They do not cause irreversible blindness or spread from one eye to the other. Usually, cataracts appear in both eyes at the same time. Also, the speed at which they progress is variable. A person may have a cataract that stays small for several years but would become really dense all of a sudden. Likewise, another patient may initially develop and have a cataract mature all within a few months.