A cataract is an opacification or cloudiness that develops within the lens of the eye. This is a normal part of the aging process that most people experience at some point. The lens is the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina, and allows us to see things sharply. The lens functions best when we are younger because it is crystal clear. As we age, the lens slowly turns yellow, then brown, and sometimes becomes opaque and white.
An analogy is a window that is never washed. As dirt accumulates, the window loses its clarity, and it is no longer possible to see through it. Similarly, sometimes a cataract progresses to the point that vision decreases.
A person with a cataract may notice problems such as blurred or distorted vision, glare from sunlight, headlights, or other lights, or trouble focusing on things. When these symptoms begin to interfere with activities of daily living, removal of the cataract may be recommended.
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Age is not the only cause of cataracts. Trauma or injury to the eye, certain medications such as prednisone or cortisone, diabetes, and other less common medical conditions may also cause cataracts. Sometimes, people are even born with cataracts. Cataracts present at birth may be small and harmless, or may be large enough to interfere with vision.