Over 24 million people have cataracts in the US, an eye disease characterized by the clouding of the eye's crystalline lens. The lens is a critical component of the eye, as it helps to focus light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The lens also adjusts the eye's focus, permitting objects to be seen clearly both close up and far away.
All cells within the body degenerate and regenerate. As we age, however, proteins can build up on the crystalline lens and obstruct or deflect some of the light that should pass through it. Cataracts can occur as different types, including nuclear, cortical, or other forms.
A nuclear cataract is most commonly seen as it forms. This cataract forms in the nucleus, the center of the lens, and is due to the natural aging process. A cortical cataract, which forms in the lens cortex, gradually extends its spokes from the outside of the lens to the center. These often have a star-like shape and appearance. Many diabetics develop cortical cataracts.
A cataract starts out small and may have little effect on one's vision. Over time, though, one will notice their vision begin to become a little foggy and find that colors are not be as bright as they once were. The cataract may also make light from the sun, lamp or car headlights seem too bright, causing glare.
Cataracts are easily treated through surgery for extraction of the cataractous lens and implantation of a synthetic replacement lens. In some cases however, surgery is not an option due to complicating health problems or other reasons. Surgery may also be delayed for various reasons including insurance reimbursement not covering the procedure until vision deteriorates to a certain level in which case patients may get frustrated by the vision loss they have to live with until surgery.
In these inoperable cases and those where a person remains visually impaired for some time until their surgery occurs, low vision aids can be of great help in assisting the cataract sufferer maintain visual functioning so they can enjoy as high a quality of life as possible and remain independent and active in performing their activities of daily living.