A crystalline lens is present inside of the eye and accounts for 30% of the power of the eye. This lens also contributes to our ability to focus. As we get older, this lens thickens and hardens, which reduces the eye’s ability to focus and results in the need for reading glasses. With time, the proteins in the lens begin to break down and clump together, resulting in a cataract. Some symptoms of cataracts include cloudy vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, need for increased illumination when reading, halos around lights, and reduced clarity of vision. Some things that can contribute to cataract formation, besides increased age, include the following: diabetes, smoking, steroid use, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, trauma to the eye, and nutrient deficiencies. Some lifestyle changes that can potentially help to slow cataract formation and progression include reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation by wearing sunglasses when outdoors, smoking cessation, and a healthy, balanced diet that includes green leafy vegetables and other sources of antioxidants.
At this time, the only known treatment for cataracts is surgery. Although complication rate with cataract surgery is low, there are risks involved. During cataract surgery, an incision is made in the cornea. Then, the surgeon goes in through the incision, breaks apart the cataract and removes it, replacing it with a new, artificial, crystal-clear lens. This is an outpatient procedure and takes about 10 minutes per eye. Typically, surgery is performed on one eye at a time. After cataract surgery, many people can see well at distance without glasses and only need reading glasses. There are intraocular lenses that can correct both astigmatism and near vision also, potentially getting rid of the need for glasses altogether.