Your risk for the most common type of cataract rises dramatically when you’re a senior. But other types and causes of cataracts are not linked to growing older.
A cataract is an area in the normally clear lens in your eye that becomes cloudy and, over time, can cause vision problems. For example, cataracts often make reading difficult due to blurry vision, interfere with your ability to see colors and details clearly, and can make driving at night problematic due to seeing “halos” around lights.
If you have an elderly parent, or if you are approaching your senior years, you’ve no doubt known someone with cataracts, or you may have been diagnosed with the condition yourself. That’s because cataracts are very common as you grow older. In fact, more than half of all Americans who are 80 or above either have cataracts or have had surgery to remove them.
However, cataracts are not limited to the age-linked kind. In fact, there are many types and causes of cataracts. And they can even occur in babies and children.
Look: What causes age-related cataracts
Most cataracts are caused by changes in your eyes, which frequently occur as you grow older, the National Eye Institute (NEI) explains. Normally, the lens in your eye is clear when you are young but, around middle-age, proteins in the lens of your eye begin to break apart and clump together. This produces a cloudy area on your lens, the start of a cataract.
Over time, cataracts can become larger and cover more of the lens, often producing vision changes that are often hardly noticeable at first. Changing your glasses prescription and using stronger lighting for reading can help with symptoms initially. But, when vision is impaired enough to interfere with your daily activities, you may need cataract surgery, which is generally very safe and effective.
Age-related cataracts, obviously, are linked closely to how old you are. But the NEI points out these factors increase the risk of developing this type of cataract:
- Drinking alcohol, especially in excess
- Having a family history of cataracts.
- Having diabetes
- Taking steroids for a prolonged period
- Having certain eye surgeries, especially glaucoma surgery
- Radiation exposure
Kids can get cataracts, too
The fact that children, including newborns, sometimes have cataracts may be surprising. While pediatric cataracts aren’t common, about three out of 10,000 children do have cataracts. Some children are born with cataracts (congenital cataracts), while others develop them later.
When it comes to types and causes of cataracts in children, most have a genetic basis, seeming to run in families. However, pediatric cataracts sometimes develop as a result of serious complications during pregnancy or because of certain childhood illnesses, including uveitis (inflammation of the eye caused by an infection, injury, or autoimmune condition) and treatment for an eye tumor. In addition, youngsters can develop cataracts due to eye injuries, steroid medications, and radiation exposure.
Some pediatric cataracts are so small that they don’t interfere with your child’s vision and can be monitored to make sure they don’t cause grow and cause problems. Vision obscuring pediatric cataracts, however, can hamper a child’s visual development and may lead to permanent vision loss without prompt treatment, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus.
More common types and causes of cataracts
A serious injury to an eye from an accident or sports injury, for example, can damage your lens and trigger the development of a traumatic cataract. This type of cataract can form quickly after the injury occurs, or it may not develop until many years later.
Radiation-caused cataracts develop as a result of radiation therapy for cancer. However, over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun (which can result from excessive sunbathing or exposure to bright sun without protective glasses over several years) can also lead to radiation cataracts.
Secondary cataracts, a condition known by the medical term posterior capsule opacification, frequently occur after cataract surgery. In all, about 50 percent of people treated for cataracts develop the condition.
Secondary cataracts aren’t technically cataracts because they result from the outside of the lens in an eye becoming cloudy, not the inside. The good news is secondary cataracts are usually easy to fix in your doctor’s office with a painless and quick laser treatment. Most people notice their vision is back to normal a few days after their secondary cataracts are treated, according to the NEI.
July 24, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN