June is National Cataract Awareness month and awareness is vital as cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally in people over 40 years old. Not good! Cataracts affect 22 million Americans and typically begins to affect your vision after age 60, although some develop as early as their 40’s. By the time you turn 80 you have a 50% chance of having a cataract or having undergone cataract surgery. Those are odds you don’t want to mess around with.
Cataracts cloud the lens of your eyes and makes it difficult for people to see the world around them. Making it difficult for every day life – reading, driving, watching TV, using the computer and mobile phone.
What are cataracts?
Cataracts are the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil.
There are different types based on where they develop in your eye:
- Subcapsular – occurs at the back of the lens. Those with diabetes or taking high doses of steroid medications are at greater risk.
- Nuclear – occurs deep in the central zone of the lens causing it to become yellow or brown. Typically associated with aging.
- Cortical – occurs in the lens cortex, surrounding the nucleus. A white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens & work their way to the center.
- Congenital – present at birth or form during baby’s first year, less common.
- Secondary – caused by disease (typically Diabetes or Glaucoma) or medications.
- Traumatic – develop after an injury to the eye, this could take several years to happen.
- Radiation – form after a person undergoes radiation treatment for cancer.
What causes Cataracts?
The lens inside the eye is made of water & protein, which is arranged in a way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through. As we get older some of this protein can clump together and cloud areas of the lens. Introducing the cataract. An unwelcomed enemy of the eye. Over time this cataract can grow larger & cloud more of the lens, making it hard to see. In addition to aging her are other risk factors:
- An overproduction of oxidants (oxygen molecules that have been chemically altered due to normal daily life)
- Too much sun exposure
- High myopia
- Heavy alcohol use
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye injury or surgery
- Long-term use of steroids & other medications
- Statin medicines for cholesterol reduction
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Exposure to radiation from x-rays & cancer treatments
- Family history
What are the symptoms?
Typically they start out small and have little effect on your vision with the first sign being your vision is a little blurred.
- Clouded, blurred or dim vision
- Trouble seeing at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Increased sensitivity to glare
- Halos surrounding lights
- Double vision in the affected eye
- A need for frequent changes in prescription glasses
How can this be treated?
Surgery is the most common way to treat cataracts. However, if you are unable or not interested, your doctor can help manage symptoms through stronger eyeglasses, strong bifocals, magnifying lenses & sunglasses with anti-glare coating.
When cataracts prevent you from your daily activities surgery will likely be your best bet. Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the U.S. for more than 3 million Americans each year.
Phacoemulsification surgery – the use of ultrasound waves to break the lens apart and remove the pieces.
Extracapsular surgery – removing the cloudy part of the lens through a long incision in the cornea. An artificial intraocular lens is placed where the natural lens was. New IOLs are being developed all the time to make the surgery less complicated for surgeons and the lenses more helpful to patients.
How can you prevent them?
There’s some controversy around whether cataracts can truly be prevented. But studies have found a variety of helpful solutions mainly pertaining to diet and nutrients.
Higher dietary intakes of Vitamin E and carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin from food & supplements can decrease your risk. Great food sources:
- Sunflower seeds
- Leafy green vegetables
Reduce your risk with a diet rich in Vitamin C. A recommended daily intake of 55 to 230 milligrams through Vitamin C-rich foods vs. supplements could help your vision as it’s an antioxidant that helps coat the lens of the eye. Great food sources:
- Red & Green Peppers
- Oranges & Orange Juice
- Grapefruit & Grapefruit Juice
- Brussels Sprouts
- Tomato Juice
Make sure to wear protective sunglasses that block 100% of the suns UV rays when you are outdoors.
Everyone over 40 should have a regular comprehensive eye exam to check for signs of cataracts and other eye conditions. Keeping a pulse on your eye health & getting in for regular exams is your best bet for allowing yourself to see the world!