Cataracts are an age-related condition that most commonly affects seniors, but they can develop earlier in life as well. When not detected early, cataracts can affect your vision and make everyday tasks difficult. Over 50% of people in the U.S. over the age of 80 have cataracts or have had surgery to remove them. There are more cases of cataracts than macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy worldwide.
As we observe Cataract Awareness Month this June, your local optometrist shares facts about this common eye condition and tips on how to prevent it.
What Are Cataracts?
Your eye’s natural lens refracts light that enters your eyes, helping you see. Your eye’s lenses become less flexible as you age, which can cause tissues in the lens to break down and clump together, forming cloudy areas within the lens.
A cataract makes your lens cloudy. Seeing through a cloudy lens is similar to looking through a foggy window. Cataracts can also make things appear hazy, blurry and not as colorful. Those who suffer from the condition may have difficulty reading, driving and identifying facial expressions.
Cataracts typically develop gradually and won’t affect your vision in the early stages. Over time, the condition will start affecting your sight. Eyeglasses and brighter lighting may help with cataracts at first, but as the condition progresses, surgery may be needed.
What Causes Cataracts?
Certain inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems to develop can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by previous eye surgeries and other health conditions, such as diabetes. Another cause of cataracts is the long-term use of steroid medications.
Diabetes, excessive sun exposure, smoking and high blood pressure all increase the risk of cataracts. Other risk factors include obesity, past eye injuries, radiation therapy and excessive alcohol consumption. Whether you’re at a high risk of developing cataracts or not, seeing your eye doctor regularly is a must.
Common symptoms of cataracts include blurry or cloudy vision, difficulty driving at night and light sensitivity. People with cataracts may see halos around lights and experience double vision in one eye, frequent changes in eyeglass prescriptions, and fading of colors. Some people who have cataracts may require brighter light for reading.
What Are the Types of Cataracts?
Cortical Cataracts – This type of cataract starts as whitish streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. As the condition progresses, these streaks elongate to the center and block the light passing through the center of the lens.
Nuclear Cataracts – Nuclear cataracts initially cause nearsightedness, which can lead to a temporary improvement in your close-up vision. However, with time, the lens slowly becomes more yellow and further impedes your sight. The lens may even turn brown as the cataract progresses. Those with severe lens yellowing or browning may have trouble recognizing shades of color.
Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts – A posterior subcapsular cataract begins as a tiny, opaque area that typically develops near the back of the lens. It can affect your reading vision, reduce your vision under bright light, and cause halo or glare around lights at night. This type of cataract progresses faster than the others.
Congenital Cataracts – These cataracts may be genetic or linked with an intrauterine trauma or infection. They may also be caused by conditions such as galactosemia, neurofibromatosis or myotonic dystrophy.
How to Delay the Development of Cataracts
Smoking can cause many health problems, including the development of free radicals in your eyes, which can harm cells. Antioxidants fight these radicals, but smoking kills off these good chemicals. This bad habit can harm your sight and increase the chances of developing cataracts. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to suffer from an impaired vision. Besides internal damage, smoking can also worsen dry eye syndrome.
Reduce Exposure to Ultraviolet Light
Ultraviolet light can age your eyes faster. These harmful rays can damage your eyes, no matter your age. This effect builds up over time and eventually leads to cataracts. Always protect your eyes when you’re heading outside. Make sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outside in broad daylight.
Avoid Developing Diabetes
Diabetes can damage different organs of your body, including the small blood vessels of your eyes. Increasing or unstable blood sugar levels can harm the lens in your eyes, resulting in blurry vision. When not addressed, it can lead to cloudiness of the vision and development of cataracts. While there’s a large chance for aging people to develop cataracts, diabetes can accelerate the process. You can avoid early development of cataracts by maintaining healthy weight and blood sugar levels as well as exercising regularly.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Include a wide range of fruits and vegetable diet to ensure you’re getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients. Vegetables and fruits contain plenty of antioxidants, which help keep your eyes healthy. However, there is no proof that antioxidant pills can prevent cataracts. Still, a diet rich in fruits in vegetables comes provides many health benefits. In addition, avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Visit Your Eye Doctor Regularly
Many eye conditions are asymptomatic until the later stages, including cataracts. Visiting your optometrist or eye doctor regularly can help detect cataracts in the early stages. Early detection and prompt treatment can help slow the progression of the condition.
Common Myths About Cataracts
Cataract Surgery Is Painful and Involves a Long Recovery
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home the same day. You should be able to resume your regular routine within a day or two of the surgery. Today, various intraocular implants are available for treating eye conditions, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. If you need cataract surgery in both eyes, your eye doctor will schedule the surgery for removing the cataract in the second eye once you’ve recovered from the first one.
Cataracts Can Grow Back After Surgery
Cataract is not a growth that covers the lens but cloudiness of the crystalline lens inside the eye. Also, there is no such thing as eye drops that can dissolve or prevent cataracts. Because cataracts are not a substance, topical treatments can’t stop them. They will also not return once you’ve had surgery.
Surgery Is the Only Option for Cataracts
Your eye doctor will recommend treatment depending on the severity of your cataracts. In some cases, cataracts can be managed with new prescription glasses, magnifying lenses, brighter lighting and anti-glare sunglasses. However, if impeded vision starts affecting your day-to-day activities, surgery may be necessary.
Cataracts Can Be Reversed
There’s no way to prevent cataracts but there are various ways to delay the development of them. Once you already have cataracts, you can’t reverse the formation. However, you can have the clouded lens replaced to improve your vision.