Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, about 70 percent of all people will develop cataracts in at least one eye by the age of 75. Because cataracts are a common part of aging, they are often thought of as a problem exclusive to an older generation. However, people younger than age 40 are not immune to cataracts. Drs. Joseph King and Gabriel Chu explain.
What Are Cataracts?
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, caused by a buildup of proteins that can clump together as part of the aging process. A cataract starts out small and at first may have little effect on vision. Over time, people with cataracts experience hazy, blurry vision, and often feel like they are looking through a cloudy piece of glass. As cataracts progress, everyday tasks such as driving and reading become difficult.
Cataracts in Younger People
There are several factors that can cause a younger person to develop a cataract.
In rare cases, babies are born with a type of cataract called a congenital cataract. Other people may develop cataracts during childhood due to a chronic illness like diabetes or the long-term use of corticosteroid medications to manage a health condition. Eye injuries or inflammation in the eye can cause a cataract to develop at any age. Overexposure to sunlight and smoking are other risk factors for the eye condition.
Treatment Options for Cataracts
In the early stages of cataracts, prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses can compensate for the loss of vision. However, as cataracts progress, surgery becomes necessary in order to restore clear vision and make everyday life easier. Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with more than 3 million Americans undergoing the procedure each year. During the procedure, the eye’s natural lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant (IOL). Complications are rare and patients are able to enjoy clear vision following surgery.