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Who is at risk for Cataracts?

Cataracts develop as part of the aging process, so everyone is at risk eventually. By age 75, about 70 percent of people will have cataracts. With age, our eye's lens slowly becomes less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Then areas of the lens become cloudy as protein in the lens begins to clump together.

Cataract risk factors

These factors increase your risk of developing cataracts:

  • Advanced age;
  • Diabetes;
  • A family history of cataracts;
  • Extensive exposure to sunlight;
  • Smoking;
  • Obesity;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Previous eye injury or inflammation (swelling) in the eye;
  • Previous eye surgery;
  • Long-term use of steroid medication (especially combined use of oral and inhaled steroids).

What causes Cataracts?

In the normal human eye, light rays travel into the eye through the pupil and are focused through the clear lens onto the retina, a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye.

The lens is made mostly of water and protein. As we age, the lens continues to grow layers on its surface and hardens. Protein in the lens may clump together and become cloudy in some areas, preventing light from passing clearly through the eye. This cloudiness of the lens is what we call a cataract.

If the clouding is mild or only involves a small part of the lens, your vision may be only slightly affected. If there is more clouding and it affects the entire lens, your vision will become severely limited and cataract surgery becomes necessary.

Less common types of cataracts, not related to normal aging, include the following.

Congenital or developmental cataracts

This type of cataract can occur in infants or children. They may be hereditary or they can be associated with some birth defects. Some occur without any obvious cause.

Non-age related cataracts from other disease or medication

These cataracts are caused by other eye diseases or previous eye surgery. Chronic disease, such as diabetes, or excessive use of steroid medications can spur development of this type of cataract.

Traumatic cataracts

These cataracts are related directly to an eye injury. Traumatic cataracts may appear immediately following injury, or they can develop several months or even years later.

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