Cataracts: The Leading Cause of Vision Loss

Our eyesight is very important—including our daily activities, reading a good book, working, and driving—yet often we take it our eyesight for granted. As we age, it's good to learn about cataracts. 

Normal Vision

The same scene as viewed by a person with cataract

Both photos courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens and is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. In the U.S., it is the leading cause of vision loss.

Cataracts can occur at any age and have even been present at birth. Though treatment for cataract removal is widely available, access barriers such as insurance coverage, treatment costs, patient choice, or lack of awareness prevent many people from seeking or receiving the proper treatment.

An estimated 17.2 percent of Americans aged 40 years and older (20.5 million) have cataract in one or both eyes, and 5.1 percent (6.1 million) have had their lens removed operatively. By 2020, the estimated total number of people who have cataracts will increase to 30.1 million.

What causes cataracts? Though there is no real definite cause, your chances of developing cataracts increase you get older and there are some risk factors:

  • A family history of cataracts
  • Certain diseases, such as diabetes
  • Long-term steroid use
  • Long-term exposure to UV rays and excessive sunlight
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Eye injuries or disease

So, what can you do?

  1. Have a regular eye exam. People 65 or older should get a complete eye exam every one or two years.
  2. If you have risk factors—such as diabetes, a previous eye trauma, surgery, or a family history of glaucoma—you may need an eye exam more frequently.
  3. See your eye doctor if you have blurred vision, double vision, ghost images, or the sense of a "film" over your eyes.
  4. Have healthy eating habits.
  5. Keep your blood sugar under control.
  6. Quit smoking.
  7. Wear sunglasses when out in the sunlight.

For more information, visit the Eye Health Self-Management Plan offered by Aging and Disability Services and Facts About Cataract (National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health).

Take care of your vision by taking care of yourself.

Mary Patricia O'Leary, RN, BSN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County. She has been instrumental in developing chronic care management and care transitions coaching programs as well as a series of self-management plans for chronic conditions (asthma, congestive heart failure, COPD, diabetes, eye health, heart disease, kidney health, and oral health), available at