Butch's Brew: Cloudy vision can be corrected

After the age 50, many of us can't see as well as we used to. The thought of having to wear bifocal or even trifocal prescription eyeglasses for reading and seeing medium and long distances, can be frustrating to all of us.

It is a medically proven fact that we all have to live with it sooner than later, and many of us are likely to hear our optometrist say those life-changing and troubling words, "You have cataracts."

No, cataracts are not some exotic virus or condition contracted while trekking through the jungles of South America in search of adventure. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye clouds and affects vision.

Most cataracts are related to the aging process and are very common in older people. It is conservatively estimated that by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. It is furthermore estimated that more than 50 million people will suffer from cataracts by the year 2050, but cataracts are not the end of the world.

I know many wonder what exactly causes fogging of the lens. What it boils down to is the lens lies behind the iris and the pupil that works basically like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye's focus, letting us see things clearly both far away and up close. The lens is comprised mostly of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it.

As we age, and in some other cases, the protein may clump together and start to cloud a very small area of the lens, thus causing blurry vision. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataracts, such as smoking, diabetes, and they can be hereditary. However, the cause of cataracts may be a simple fact that the protein in the lens just changes from the wear and tear it takes over the years.

Other factors and causes of cataracts:

Babies can be born with cataracts or develop them in childhood. They are called congenital cataracts;

They can develop after exposure to some types of radiation and are commonly referred to as radiation cataracts;

They sometimes form after surgery for other eye problems, such as glaucoma, diabetes and/or from the use of steroids, and are referred to as secondary cataracts;

They can develop after an eye injury, sometimes years later, and are called traumatic cataracts.

If someone feels their eyesight is starting to blur and they believe they may have cataracts, it would behoove them to visit their optometrist for an evaluation and to develop a plan of action to correct the problem.

The optometrist may ultimately recommend cataract surgery. This is a relatively simple procedure where the lens inside a person's eye that has become cloudy is removed and replaced with an artificial lens to restore clear vision. The procedure typically is performed on an outpatient basis and does not require an overnight stay in a medical facility.

As frightening as it may be to hear the words, "You have cataracts," diminishing eyesight can possibly be corrected through surgery and it will, in turn, reduce the dependency of having to wear eyeglasses as well.