What is a cataract?

What is a cataract? Inside your eye, you have a structure called a ‘lens’. The lens and the cornea are the structures of your eye which bend light rays to the retina to give you a clear, sharp focus. In addition to bending the rays of light, the lens is transparent and allows the light to get through to it.

In cases where your lens gets cloudy, we say you have a cataract. Some people confuse a cataract with a pterygium, but the pterygium is a growth on the eye, whereas a cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye.

Origin of the name ‘cataract’

The name cataract is from ancient times when the surgeons then thought that the white colour that’s on the eye came from the brain. They thought it was the brain trickling down fluid into the eye.

Who will get a cataract?

Essentially everyone will get a cataract if they live long enough because over time, the lens proteins change structure because of sunlight and other factors and that lead to clouding of the lens. When we’re born, our lenses are clear like a clean windshield.

With time, they get gradually translucent as though you’re wearing tinted glasses, but you can still see through. As time progresses and the lenses clouds more, the lens becomes completely opaque. At that time we say that you’ve got a cataract. So a cataract is a clouding of the lens of your eye which comes to everyone with time.


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About the author

Leonard Teye-Botchway
Consultant Ophthalmic Physician and Surgeon |MBChB, FRCS(G), MBA, FWACS, FGCS, DCEH (Lond), Postgraduate Diploma in Cataracts and Refractive Surgery

I am Leonard Teye-Botchway and I am the Medical Director and Consultant Ophthalmologist at Bermuda International Institute of Ophthalmology in Bermuda. The joy and elation I get from seeing patients who are very happy they can see after surgery is almost unimaginable. This is what really drives me to carry on being an ophthalmologist.

We have sourced some or all of the content on this page from The American Academy of Ophthalmology, with permission.