ecause August is Cataract Awareness Month, I thought we should take a look at this disease. No one knows exactly why the lenses of the eyes change as people age, but it is a problem for many people in middle age. Cataracts usually do not rob people of their vision until they are in their 60s, and, additionally, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI), because cataracts are more common in older people, more than 50 percent of 80-year-olds either have a cataract or have undergone cataract surgery.
What are Cataracts?
A cataract causes a clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye, as shown in the illustration to the right. Cataracts progress slowly over time and vision loss is the result. When left untreated, cataracts result in blindness, and, 48 percent of the world’s cases of blindness are caused by cataracts.
What are the Symptoms?
Cataracts are not painful, and normally a cataract will not change the appearance of your eye. However, there are symptoms, which include:
- Blurry or clouded vision with the size of the blurry or cloudy area enlarging over time
- Colors are faded
- Double vision occurs
- Eye prescriptions change frequently
- Halos appear around lights
- Poor night vision occurs
- Sensitivity to car headlights, lamps, or sunlight
Who is at Risk and What Causes Cataracts?
Those at risk for cataracts include people affected by:
- Old Age
Cataracts can also be caused by:
- Drugs such as Corticosteroids, Ezetimibes (such as Vytorin and Inegy), and possibly Quetiapines (such as Seroquel or Ketipinor)
- Exposure to infrared or microwave radiation
- Eye injuries or physical trauma
- Genetic or congenital factors
- Long-term exposure to ultraviolet sunlight
- Personal behaviors, such as smoking or drinking alcohol
Women are also more prone to cataracts than men, and people with brown iris’s also seem to be at greater risk.
How Do I Know if I have a Cataract Problem?
Once you reach 60 years old you should have a thorough exam and have your eyes checked no less than ever two years thereafter. The exam should include a check for not only for cataracts but also for glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other vision problems. The exam should include the following:
- Dilated Eye Exam—Your eyes are dilated and your retina and optic nerve are examined for eye problems or damage.
- Visual Acuity Test—This vision test measures how well you see things at a distance.
- Tonometry Test—This test, also sometimes called an “air-puff test,” measures the pressure on the optic nerve.
How Can I Protect Myself from Cataracts?
There is no way to prevent cataracts, but you can protect yourself and delay the problem by wearing sunglasses and hats so you block ultraviolet rays. Eating a good diet that includes fruit, leafy green vegetables, and antioxidant foods—high in vitamins A, C, and E—is also advised.
What is the Treatment?
Initially, new glasses, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses can help. If those measures aren’t sufficient, the condition worsens, other eye conditions cannot be treated because of the cataracts, or if the cataracts interfere with everyday activity—such as driving or reading—surgery is the only solution.
There are two types of surgery and your doctor can determine the best type of surgery for you. If both eye lenses are affected, only one lens is removed at a time, and the surgeries are conducted about four to eight weeks apart.
What are the Risks and Success Rate?
As with any surgery, cataract surgery has risks. It slightly increases your risk for retinal detachment, and, even if this problem is promptly treated, some vision loss may occur. However, cataract surgery is also one of the safest and most common types of surgery in America, and, moreover, ninety percent of people who have the surgery show improved vision.
How Do I Get More Information?
For more information about cataracts, you can get free publications or downloads from the National Eye Institute. They provide several packets, including “Age Related Disease Study Information Packet,” “Cataract: What You Should Know,” “Don’t Lose Sight of Cataracts.”