Development and Risk Factors
Age-related cataracts develop in two ways.
- Clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina.
- The clear lens slowly changes to a yellowish/brownish color, adding a brownish tint to vision.
Protein Clumpings Cloud the Lens
The lens consists mostly of water and protein. When the protein clumps up, it clouds the lens and reduces the light that reaches the retina. The clouding may become severe enough to cause blurred vision. Most age-related cataracts develop from protein clumpings.
When a cataract is small, the cloudiness affects only a small part of the lens. You may not notice any changes in your vision. Cataracts tend to grow slowly, so vision gets worse gradually.
Over time, the cloudy area in the lens may get larger, and the cataract may increase in size. Seeing may become more difficult. Your vision may get duller or blurrier.
Discoloration of the Lens
Cataracts cause the lens to change to a yellowish/brownish color. As the clear lens slowly colors with age, your vision gradually may acquire a brownish shade. At first, the amount of tinting may be small and may not cause a vision problem.
Over time, increased tinting may make it more difficult to read and perform other routine activities. This gradual change in the amount of tinting does not affect the sharpness of the image transmitted to the retina.
If you have advanced lens discoloration, you may not be able to identify blues and purples. You may be wearing what you believe to be a pair of black socks, only to find out from friends that you are wearing purple socks.
The risk of cataract increases as you get older. Other risk factors for cataract include
- certain diseases like diabetes
- personal behavior like smoking or alcohol use
- environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight.