With age and as tissues in the eye break down and clump together, lenses in the eyes become thicker, less flexible, and less transparent. This condition, known as a cataract, clouds small areas of the lens in its early stages. In time, the cloudiness (or cataract) typically worsens and involves larger parts of the lens.

In people with cataracts, light is scattered instead of focused as it passes through the lens, which prevents a defined image from reaching the retina. As a result, vision is blurred. People with cataracts often find it difficult to read, drive a car especially at night, and see details such as facial expressions. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes.

Cataracts can cause:

• Cloudy, blurry, or dim vision

• Sensitivity to light and glare

• Poor night vision

• Double vision in one or both eyes

• Lights that appear to have halos

• Colors that appear faded or yellowed

There are different types of cataracts. For example, nuclear cataracts affect the center of the lens, whereas cortical cataracts affect the edges of the lens and posterior subcapsular cataracts affect the back of the lens. Cataracts that occur as a result of inherited syndromes are known as congenital cataracts. Whatever their type or cause, all cataracts can be treated with surgery.

Most cataracts develop as a result of aging or an injury that affects the tissue in the lens.

Other risk factors also can increase the odds for getting cataracts, including:

• Diabetes

• Excessive alcohol consumption

• Excessive sunlight exposure

• Exposure to ionizing radiation, including X-rays and cancer radiation therapy

• Family history of cataracts

• High blood pressure

• Obesity

• Previous eye surgery

• Corticosteroid medication treatment

• Smoking

"Although strong lighting and eyeglasses can help manage cataracts in their early stages, many people eventually need surgery to restore their eyesight," says Summit Medical Group Ophthalmologist Linda Hsueh, MD. "The good news is that surgery to remove cataracts is safe and effective."

If you've noticed changes in your vision, be sure to see your ophthalmologist. He or she will give you a comprehensive examination and discuss any concerns you have about your eyes.