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Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas in part or all of the transparent lens located inside the eye. The lens is normally clear and allows light to pass through. So when a cataract forms, light cannot easily pass through the lens and this affects vision. Cataracts usually develop gradually and without pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. Some remain small and do not seriously affect vision. However, if a cataract becomes larger or denser, it can be surgically removed. Cataract surgery (in which the clouded lens is removed) is a safe procedure that is almost always successful. Cataract patients should discuss the risks and benefits of this optional procedure with their doctor. After surgery, vision is restored by using special eyeglasses or contact lenses or by having an intraocular lens implant (a plastic lens that is implanted in the eye during surgery).

Glaucoma occurs when there is too much fluid pressure in the eye, causing internal eye damage and gradually destroying vision. The basic cause of glaucoma is not known but, with early diagnosis and treatment, it can usually be controlled and blindness prevented. Treatment consists of prescription eyedrops, oral medications, laser treatments, or in some cases surgery. Glaucoma seldom produces early symptoms, and usually there is no pain from increased pressure. For these reasons, it is important for eye specialists to test for the disease during routine eye examinations in those over 35.

Retinal disorders are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The retina is a thin lining on the back of the eye made up of nerves that receive visual images and pass them on to the brain. Retinal disorders include macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment.

Age-related macular degeneration is a condition in which the macula (a part of the retina responsible for sharp central and reading vision) stops functioning efficiently. The first signs may include blurring of reading vision, distortion or loss of central vision (for example, a dark spot in the center of the field of vision), and distortion in vertical lines. Early detection of macular degeneration is important since some cases may be handled well with laser treatments.

Diabetic retinopathy, one of the possible problems of diabetes, occurs when the small blood vessels that feed the retina fail to do so properly. In the early stages of the condition, the blood vessels may leak fluid, which distorts vision. In the later stages, new vessels may grow and release blood in the center of the eye, resulting in serious loss of vision.

Retinal detachment is a separation between the inner and outer layers of the retina. Detached retinas can usually be surgically reattached with good or partial renewal of vision. New surgical and laser treatments are being used today with increasing success.


Many people with visual impairments can be helped by using low-vision aids. These are special devices that provide more power than regular eyeglasses. Low-vision aids include telescopic glasses, light-filtering lenses, and magnifying glasses, along with a variety of electronic devices. (Some are designed to be hand-held; others rest directly on reading material.) Partially sighted individuals often notice surprising improvements with the use of these aids.

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