As part of our visual (sight) system, each
eye contains a lens. The lens is a clear, disc-shaped
structure behind the pupil and iris. The lens focuses light beams on the retina, the back part of the eye that sends sight signals to the brain. When
the lens becomes cloudy, vision blurs. Clouding of the lens is called a cataract.
Cataracts are common, especially in older individuals. As a normal part
of the aging process, the lens gradually becomes cloudy. A simple eye examination
by an ophthalmologist (eye physician) can detect
The July 9, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article about cataracts.
Blurry or dim vision
Trouble seeing at night
Needing brighter light to read
Seeing halos around objects or lights
Sensitivity to glare
Rapid changes in eyewear prescriptions
Cataracts are not painful. They do not cause itching, redness, or discharge from the eye.
Exposure to sunlight
Previous eye injury
Cataracts should be removed when they interfere with vision for everyday
activities. Cataract surgery is common. More than 1.5 million cataract surgeries
are performed in the United States each year. The success rate for cataract
surgery is about 98%.
There are several types of cataract surgery, but all
remove most of the clouded lens. Sometimes local anesthetic drops are used
to numb the eye for the operation. For some individuals, injections are given
to make the eye painless and not able to move during the surgery. Sedating
medications may be given during the procedure, but they may not be required
in all cases. For many patients, the clouded lens is replaced by a clear artificial
lens inside the eye. Other patients may need a contact lens or special glasses
after the operation. Your ophthalmologist will describe the techniques used
for your particular case.
Recovering from a cataract operation is usually simple, but you will
be asked to follow some instructions, such as not lifting heavy objects or
bending from the waist. Talk with your ophthalmologist about your personal
risks and benefits from cataract surgery. Cataracts are not painful. They
do not cause itching, redness, or discharge from the eye.
National Eye Institute 301/496-5248www.nei.nih.gov
American Academy of Ophthalmology 415/561-8500www.aao.org
American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery 703/591-2220www.ascrs.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA’s Web site at www.jama.com. Many are available in English
and Spanish. A Patient Page on age-related macular degeneration was published
in the November 13, 2002, issue.
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA . The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Society of Cataract
and Refractive Surgery, National Eye Institute
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Cataracts. JAMA. 2003;290(2):286. doi:10.1001/jama.290.2.286