As more Americans are enjoying longer lives, health issues associated with aging are keeping pace, including vision problems such as cataracts. Over 24 million Americans over the age of 40 suffer from cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the US and worldwide. In fact, more than half of all Americans have cataracts by the time they are 80 years old. These are two of the reasons why the volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America, has named June Cataract Awareness Month.
What are cataracts? They are opaque spots that develop on the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light into the eye, decreasing a person’s ability to see. Left untreated, cataracts can eventually cause blindness.
Fortunately, cataracts are fairly easy to treat — a surgeon removes the deteriorated lens and replaces it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens or IOL. Over 3 million Americans undergo cataract surgery annually, making it one of the most common surgeries in the United States. In fact, the entire surgery lasts only about 20 minutes, and most people can resume normal activities fairly rapidly.
While eye surgery can sound complicated and dangerous, cataract surgery is in fact quite simple, requiring a very small incision in the cornea to replace the clouded natural lens with the clear artificial one. The procedure is usually performed in an outpatient surgical center.
The exact cause of cataracts is unknown. Most often, a cataract is simply part of growing older. As you age, you are at greater risk of developing a cataract. There are also several possible risk factors for cataracts, such as:
- Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes
- Inflammation in the eye
- Hereditary influences
- Events before birth, such as German measles in the mother
- Long-term steroid use
- Eye injuries
- Eye diseases
There are several types of cataracts – far and away, the most dominant is age-related:
Age-related 95% of cataracts are age-related, usually after age 40
Congenital These are present at birth, usually caused by infection or inflammation during pregnancy; possibly inherited
Traumatic Lens damage from a hard blow, cut, puncture, intense heat or chemical burn may cause cataracts
Secondary Some medicines, eye disease, eye infection, or diseases such as diabetes cause these cataracts
There is no proven way to prevent age-related cataracts. However, choosing a healthy lifestyle can slow the progression of cataracts. Some ways to delay the progression of cataracts include avoiding smoking, reducing exposure to UV rays, eating healthy foods, and wearing proper eye protection to avoid eye injury. See the Optometrist to be diagnosed if you are having trouble with your eyes.