Ever experienced blurred vision, odd glares, seeing haloes, and/or real difficulty in low light conditions? You could have cataracts. And cataracts can be a serious thing.

First, let's define what a cataract is. It's a clouding of the natural intraocular lens that focuses the light entering the eye onto the retina. They can be very common in older people - in fact, more than half of all Americans who reach age 80 have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

It can happen in either or both of an individual's eyes, and it does not spread from one eye to the other. So one eye's cataract doesn't necessarily mean it will move over next door.

Your eyes' lenses are made up primarily of water and protein. When you get older, the protein can clump together - causing a 'cloud' on your lens. Because your lens has to be clear for your retina to receive a sharp image, the cloudiness created by the cataract causes the image you see to be blurred. Cataracts often develop slowly and painlessly. 

Some research points to cataracts being caused by smoking and diabetes, while most research does agree that the wear and tear over time can cause the change in the lens' protein.

People can get cataracts as early as their 40s, and usually it isn't until a person reaches age 60 that cataracts can be serious enough to cause blindness.

When a cataract is detected early, the symptoms may be improved with new eyeglasses, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. Should these not prove helpful, it is surgery that is the only effective treatment. Modern cataract surgery removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with a clear intraocular lens - and it is the only accepted effective treatment for cataracts.

Fun fact about cataract surgery: it is the most common procedure in all of US medicine. Three million Americans have cataract surgery each year.

After surgery, patients often return to daily activities very quickly. It takes a bit of time for the eye to heal, as the eyes and mind need to relearn how to focus together.

So, if you're ever experiencing clouded vision, and you are at 40 years or above - it is probably worth a trip to your doctor to get checked. Don't let cataracts steal your sight.

Dr. Lindsay Rhodes