this image shows a single open eye with long eye-lashes

What are Cataracts and what causes them?

a photo of one eye shadowed and almost in black and white

What are cataracts and what causes them?

Eyesight is such a precious sense and one we tend to take for granted for the most part. Cataracts change this.

My Mother in Law was virtually blind due to glaucoma and cataracts, so I  appreciated my sight in my younger days and lament its’ decline now I am in my mid-50s!

If I planted hanging baskets she would have to feel and smell them as she couldn’t see. It saddened me to think she couldn’t see her two gorgeous grandsons and would feel their faces.

Understanding what cataracts are.

I wanted to write a blog about cataracts to provide an understanding of what they are, and how they can be treated. My  Mum had hers removed last year and has said her sight is massively improved. Thank goodness! She was still driving and had difficulty seeing the road signs! She also said she saw two balls when she was playing tennis!

Cataracts are a very common eye condition. As we age the lens inside our eye gradually changes and becomes less transparent. A lens that has turned misty or cloudy, is said to have a cataract. Over time they can deteriorate, gradually making vision mistier. A straightforward operation can usually remove the misty lens replacing it with an artificial lens to enable you to see more clearly again. The magic of medical advancements. In the past, you would have simply lost your sight.

How sight works.

When you look at something, light passes through the front of your eye and is focused by the cornea. It then travels through the lens onto the retina. The lens is normally clear allowing light to pass directly to the retina. This is is because of the way the cells in it are arranged. It lens focuses light onto the retina which converts the light into electrical signals. A network of nerves delivers these signals from the different parts of the retina to the optic nerve and then onto the brain. The brain interprets these signals to “see” the world around us. Flipping clever and probably something we take for granted and never question!

Cataracts occur from changes in the way the cells of the lens are arranged and their water content. This causes the lens to become cloudy. When this happens light can’t pass directly through the lens and vision becomes impaired. A misconception is that a cataract is a growth or a film over the eye. This is untrue, it is simply the lens has become misty.

Causes of cataracts.

Cataracts can be caused by a number of things but by far the most common reason is simply ageing. Most people over the age of 65 have some change in their lenses and most of us will develop a cataract in time. Apart from getting older, the other common causes of cataracts include:

  • diabetes
  • injury to the eye
  • medications such as steroids
  • eye surgery for other eye conditions
  • other eye conditions.

In general, the reason why you have developed a cataract will not affect the way it is removed.

Factors increasing the risk of cataracts

Research is still ongoing but it is thought that the following factors increase the likelihood of developing cataracts.

  • tobacco smoking
  • lifelong exposure to sunlight
  • having a poor diet lacking antioxidant vitamins

(source RNIB)


Award-winning blogger and former care columnist for Devon Life magazine. I am passionate about helping elderly people and people with dementia live purposeful and independent lives.
Designer of the Dementia Assistance Card and Points Of Light award recipient, Caron hopes to help carers when resources are limited and demand is ever-increasing. I am here to support you.

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