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cataract surgery

Cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. When we look at something, light rays travel into our eye through the pupil and are focused through the lens onto the retina, a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. The lens must be clear in order to focus light properly onto the retina. If the lens has become cloudy, this is called a cataract. Described as a natural clouding of the eye lens, cataracts are fairly common, affecting about 20 million people worldwide.

Cataracts are actually considered an inevitable part of aging and are widespread among people ages 55 years and older. In fact, half of all Americans have them—or have had cataract surgery—by age 80. What's worse, if left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. Cataracts are already the leading cause of vision loss in adults over age 55 and the most common cause behind blindness worldwide.

The good news, however, is that treatment for cataracts is highly successful with a low complication rate. There are more than 3 million cataract surgeries performed each year in the United States. In fact, about 95 percent of patients are able to restore their full pre-cataract distance vision after undergoing the standard intraocular lens (IOL) procedure.

Many things can cause a cataract to form, including diabetes, but it is believed that natural aging is the main culprit—at least for 99% of cataract sufferers (the other 1% are born with congenital cataracts, sometimes due to metabolic disorders or intrauterine infections).

Age-related cataracts are a clouding of the eye's lens that blocks passage of light to the retina, resulting in impaired vision. Often a result of normal aging, cataracts form when protein clumps cloud areas of the eye's lens. As the cataract progresses, vision worsens and often requires surgical replacement of the damaged lens with an artificial one. Some cataracts may be also caused by trauma, medications such as steroids or disease such as diabetes. Most cataracts progress slowly and painlessly over the years; however, in rare cases they can progress rapidly. Cataracts are usually first discovered during routine eye examinations. They are not usually removed until they impede upon daily activities.

When a cataract causes bothersome vision problems that interfere with your daily activities, your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery to remove the cataract. With cataract surgery, your eye's cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens implant (called an intraocular lens or IOL). You and your ophthalmologist can discuss the cataract surgery procedure, preparation for and recovery after surgery, benefits and possible complications of cataract surgery, cataract surgery costs and other important information. Together, you can decide if cataract surgery is appropriate for you.

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