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JAMA Patient Page
July 9, 2003


JAMA. 2003;290(2):286. doi:10.1001/jama.290.2.286

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 a cataract.

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.


  • Age

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Exposure to sunlight

  • Alcohol use

  • Previous eye injury

  • Premature birth

  • Corticosteroid medications


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.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA’s Web site at 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