Let's get the bad news out of the way: Cataracts remain the top cause of blindness worldwide.
But thanks to recent advances in treatment, cataracts--clouding of the normally clear lens in the eye--usually don't lead to permanent vision loss. Or if there is impairment, the loss is reversible in most cases, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Cataracts are actually fairly common, affecting more than 20 million Americans age 40 and older. And cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States, the AAO says.
So how do you know if you have a cataract? Symptoms can include cloudy or blurry vision, excessive glare, double vision, weak night vision and frequent eyeglass prescription changes, according to the National Eye Institute.
If you think you may have a cataract, you should see an eye doctor, who can diagnose it with a comprehensive eye exam. Your options for dealing with a cataract, particularly in the early stages, could be as simple as new eyeglasses or brighter lighting.
But sometimes the only solution is surgery, which is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and involves removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial one. The nearly painless surgery is usually covered by insurance, including Medicare, the AAO says.
(It's a misconception, by the way, that lasers are used in cataract surgery, although they may be used afterward to get rid of film that can grow on the new lens.)
Cataract surgery is considered one of the safest types of surgery, and about 90 percent of patients have better vision afterward.
Still, just because you have a cataract doesn't necessarily mean you need surgery, at least not right away. It only needs to be removed, the Eye Institute says, if it's getting in the way of daily activities like driving and reading.
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