August is Cataract Awareness Month
Over 20 million Americans aged 40 and older have cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens and one of the most curable causes of vision loss. Most cataracts are related to aging, but other types of conditions can also lead to cloudy or blurry vision – some of which are very preventable.
The lens of the eye is the clear portion located beneath the pupil and the iris and helps to focus light or an image on the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye. In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina, where nerve signals then send the image to the brain. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred and colors may seem faded.
Over time, old cells and proteins can clump in the lens which creates the clouding. These age-related cataracts can start small and “grow” slowly. However, a cataract cannot spread from one eye to the other.
How Cataracts Develop
Other types of cataracts develop from eye problems, such as glaucoma or after an eye injury. Exposure to some types of radiation can increase the risk of cataracts. There is also a form of congenital cataracts. Babies can be born with a clouded lens or children will develop them early in life, often in both eyes.
Once a cataract starts, no drug, exercise, or special diet is known to make the clouding get smaller or “disappear”. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
• Those with diabetes are at an increased risk of several different eye diseases, including cataracts. Control your blood sugar with a combination of diet, exercise, and appropriate medication to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
• If you smoke, stop.
• Eat a healthful diet with antioxidant-rich foods, such as deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Nutritional supplements have been shown to be beneficial in populations with nutrient deficiencies, but an overall healthy diet is the best preventative in most people.
• Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may delay the formation of cataracts.
• See your eye doctor at least once every two years if you are 60 or older. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.
Should you take precautions and still develop a cataract, new techniques have been developed over the past decade to make cataract surgery one of the safest and most successful procedures available. Each year, more than 1.6 million cataract surgeries are performed in the US, most often in an outpatient clinic under local anesthesia.
Lasers are not currently used to remove cataracts. During surgery, the ophthalmologist will make a tiny incision through which he removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with a permanent artificial lens. More than 90% of people who have had cataract surgery regain useful vision.