What are cataracts?

The lens is right inside the pupil of the eye behind the colored part of the eye. Light goes through the lens when it comes into the eye. The lens helps focus the light on the back of the eye. When the lens is young and healthy, it can get flatter or fatter. That changes the focus of the light, just like magnifiers with different shapes make things look bigger or smaller. When the lens inside an eye gets cloudy white and hard, it is called a cataract.

When there is a cataract in the lens, the lens cannot change shape as much. It no longer focuses the light well. The cataract also clouds the lens. Less light can pass through it to the back of the eye and to the brain.

What causes cataracts?

Some people are born with cataracts. They have one or two parents who have cataracts and they inherited them.

Other people are born with cataracts because their mothers were sick while they were growing inside their mothers. The germs the mother was fighting caused cataracts in the baby that was growing.

People who are getting older than sixty-five years old often have cataracts just because their lenses are aging. Some adults get cataracts because of the way their bodies digest food. People who have diabetes sometimes develop cataracts.

Cataracts sometimes go with other eye problems. People need to ask the doctor to watch for cataracts if they have retinopathy of prematurity, Leber's congenital amaurosis, aniridia, microphthalmia or retinitis pigmentosa.

What kind of vision do people have who have cataracts?

People who have cataracts have trouble seeing clearly. Bright lights make it very hard to see. If the cataracts keep growing, people become blind.

What will help you if you have cataracts?

  1. Wear sunglasses and a hat in bright light.
  2. Use a white cane to check out what you are walking toward.
  3. Try to get lights indoors that you can make dimmer.
  4. You may need to move your head to see around the cataracts.
  5. It may help to make things bigger. The easy way to make things look bigger is to move them close to you or move yourself close to them. Use a bookstand to hold your book so that you can sit up to look at it up close. Maybe a magnifier will help you see things close to you. You can make print and pictures bigger on the computer or with a copy machine.
  6. Sometimes looking will make you tired faster than other people. Ask for a break, and do something that does not use your eyes for a while.
  7. Ask your doctor if you can have the cataracts removed. Once they are removed, you will have aphakia, which you can read about here.

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