More than half of all cases of blindness are caused by cataracts. According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, approximately 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts; this number is expected to increase to 30 million by 2020. While many people have heard the term cataract and it is an extremely common occurrence as we age, many don’t understand what cataracts are, their symptoms, or how they’re treated.
Very simply, cataracts are cloudy areas on the lenses of our eyes that leave eyesight dimmed or blurry. The function of the eye’s lens is easy to remember: it acts much like a camera’s lens. When a camera lens is dirty from fingerprints or debris, light cannot get through the lens, and photos end up cloudy and dull. If the lens is clear and clean, light is able to pass through freely to help create images that are crisp and vibrant – these same principles hold for our eyes’ lenses, which determine the quality of our vision.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Like many maladies, cataracts often start small and progress relatively unnoticed. As they grow over time, vision may deteriorate, much like poor-quality photos taken by a camera with a dirty lens. Some common symptoms of cataracts are:
- Blurry, dim, or cloudy vision
- Sensitivity to and/or seeing “halos” around lights
- Difficulty with night vision
- Double vision from one eye
- Fading of colors
Though cataracts often take time to form (and we therefore associate them with seniors), they are not caused by advanced age alone. While most cataracts are age-related, risk factors for cataracts include smoking, hypertension, obesity, higher alcohol consumption, diabetes, UV radiation, and a family history.
Studies have shown that a healthy diet with healthy amounts of vitamins C and E as well as lutein and zeaxanthin (learn more about foods that contribute to eye health here) may help prevent or slow the formation of cataracts. Other preventive tactics include decreasing or stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, and limiting exposure to sunlight with UV-blocking lenses.
Unfortunately, because cataracts are correlated with age, there is no surefire way to prevent them from forming. Luckily, cataracts can be treated. For some, cataracts do not affect or minimally affect vision; for these folks, it is important to monitor vision and get annual eye exams. For others, a change in prescription could help vision. Anti-glare coatings on lenses can also help with night driving by reducing halos due to cataracts.
As cataracts progress enough to where they impede everyday tasks, surgery may be necessary. While cataract surgery may sound invasive and daunting, it is very common and can be done as an outpatient procedure. Again, the type of surgery depends on an individual and his or her needs. One type of cataract surgery uses ultrasound waves to break up and remove the cataract. In more advanced cases, the clouded lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens that requires no care. In many cases, cataract surgery patients are able to see much more clearly just hours after surgery. These surgeries are simple and very successful, and offer a great solution to alleviate the difficulty created by cataracts.
As with any surgery, it is important to discuss risks and benefits with your eye care professional. Contact Uptown Eye Care to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our doctors.