Information about Cataracts

A cataract is an opacification (cloudiness) of the eye's normally clear crystalline lens. Derived from the Latin word meaning waterfall, the term "cataract" arose from the ancient misconception that evil liquids flowing into the eye were the cause of cataract symptoms.

Cataracts can occur at any age (in fact, babies can be born with them), but they are most common later in life. In the United States, 75 percent of people over age 60 have some sign of cataracts. It is estimated that more than 20 million Americans over age 40 (approximately 17 percent) have had a cataract. That number is anticipated to reach about 30 million by the year 2020.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide; however, that is only because many people do not have access to eye care. In most individuals, vision loss from cataracts can be corrected by surgery. In fact, cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the United States.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that 1.6 million cataract operations are performed each year in the United States. However, not all cataracts affect vision significantly or require treatment.

Publication Review By: Susan B. Bressler, M.D., Harry A. Quigley, M.D., Oliver D. Schein, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 03 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015