Cataract Awareness

Prevent Blindness America has declared June as Cataract Awareness Month. Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and it is the leading cause of blindness in the world. There are 24 million Americans over the age of 40 who are affected by cataracts, so it seems fitting that an entire month should be dedicated to education and awareness. Even though cataracts are so prevalent, they are very simple to treat. Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness among older adults in the United States. More than half of all Americans have cataracts by the time they are 80 years old. Cataracts can also sometimes be found in young people or even newborn babies.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents passage of light into the eye. The solution to cataracts is cataract surgery, which requires a surgeon to remove the deteriorated lens and replace 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.

Everyone who gets a cataract experiences it differently. But a person with a cataract commonly experiences cloudy or blurry vision. Lights may cause a glare, seem too dim or seem too bright. It may be hard to read or drive, especially at night. If you have a cataract, you may see halos around lights, such as car headlights, that make it hard to focus clearly. Colors may not seem as bright as they used to be. Or you may have to change your eyeglass prescription often. While it is possible to reduce your risk of developing cataracts, unfortunately it is not 100 percent preventable. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of cataracts including: family history, medications, and age.

Cataracts are probably caused by changes related to aging. Throughout our lives, our bodies replace old cells with new ones. As we grow older, the old cells in our eye’s lens build up and block light as it tries to pass through. The end result is cloudy vision. Besides getting older, other factors may cause cataracts to form. Eye infections, some medicines (such as steroids), injuries or exposure to intense heat or radiation may cause cataracts. Too much exposure to non-visible sunlight (called UV or ultraviolet light) and various diseases, such as diabetes or metabolic disorders, may also contribute to cataracts forming.

There have been a number of advances in the technology surrounding cataract surgery. The type of artificial lens that is implanted can sometimes be used to correct some forms of astigmatism. Additionally, laser surgery can be combined with cataract surgery in some patients to try to reduce their dependence upon glasses. You should discuss whether you are a candidate for these types of procedures with your eye surgeon.

Cataract surgery has restored vision to millions of people. Every year in the U.S., more than two million cataract surgeries are performed. The key to preventing vision loss is regular eye exams. If you are 65 or older, you should get a complete eye exam every one or two years, even if you have no problem seeing well. Be sure to ask your eye doctor for a dilated eye exam.