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What Causes Cataracts?

written by: Pepperminty • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/28/2011

Cataracts is a painless condition that causes cloudy eye lens and impaired vision. Learn what causes cataracts so you can take steps to prevent them.

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    What Causes Cataracts?

    Cataracts are very common in the elderly. In fact, more than half of adults have a cataract by the age of 80. A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye is clouded by protein. Normally, the proteins are arranged in a specific pattern which allows the eye to function properly. The proteins can clump together and cause blurred vision as the eye lens ages. If not treated, the cataract may continue to grow and further impair eyesight.

    Although age is one of the most common causes of cataracts, there are other factors responsible for this condition. Cataracts can be caused by traumatic eye injuries. An impact or puncture to the eye can disrupt the normal formation of proteins and cause the lens to develop a cataract. Secondary cataracts are a result of certain medications, medical problems or exposure to certain substances. Many diabetics, for example, suffer from cataracts. Cholesterol-lowing statins as well as exposure to ultraviolet light or radiation are other common causes of cataracts. Other risk factors include smoking, alcohol consumption and air pollution. While it is rare, some infants are born with congenital cataracts.

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    Symptoms

    Depending on the severity, cataracts may or may not exhibit any symptoms. It is possible to have cataracts and not realize it. Some of the most common observable symptoms of cataracts include blurred vision, severe glare from light sources, double vision and difficulty seeing colors. The glare from car headlights may make it difficult to drive at night. In some cases, performing daily activities is nearly impossible because of vision problems. Infants and children may exhibit symptoms of cataracts by squinting or trying to avoid light. Babies may also have difficulty finding objects and not look directly into people's faces.

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    Prevention

    Wearing eye protection when exposed to sunlight can help prevent cataracts. Tanning beds and sunlamps should be avoided. Alcohol should only be consumed in moderation. Avoid smoking and coming into contact with second-hand smoke. Consume a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables. Although not proven, some doctors suggest that a diet high in vitamins C and E may help prevent cataracts. Medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension should be carefully managed.

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    Treatment

    Serious cataracts that interfere with daily activities usually require surgery. During the procedure, the clouded lens is removed. An artificial lens is then inserted into the eye. If surgery is necessary for both eyes, it is performed at different times. There is usually a four to eight week period between the surgeries. Most people will have to wear prescription eyeglasses after having their cataracts removed. In some cases, simple lifestyle changes may help you delay or avoid surgery. These include wearing prescription eyeglasses, using a magynifying glass when reading and using anti-glare sunglasses.

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    Resources

    Mayo Clinic: Cataracts - Causes

    National Eye Institute: Facts About Cataracts