Cataracts are one of the most common eye health problems. Globally, cataracts cause a third of severe visual impairments, according to the World Health Organization.
Described simply, when you have cataracts, it means your eye’s lens has become cloudy. Cataracts can take a long time to develop and usually happen in old age. Cataracts can dramatically decrease your overall ability to see, particularly at night.
While there is no definite way to prevent cataracts, you can significantly lower your risk of developing them. When you observe that your vision seems worse, or you have trouble seeing without bright light, you should ask your doctor about testing for cataracts.
Common Risk Factors
There are several common risk factors for developing cataracts. While age is the most common, other considerations can affect your risk, such as your gender or race, if you have health conditions like diabetes, and your overall lifestyle habits.
Age: The older you get, the more likely it is that you will develop cataracts. The National Eye Institute notes that cataracts begin and progress based largely on environmental exposure (e.g., exposure to smoke or ultraviolet light) or as a secondary condition related to another health problem you have. As you age, you have a greater risk of acquiring a wide variety of health concerns that can trigger the development of cataracts. About 24 million or 17 percent of Americans past age 40 have cataracts, Prevent Blindness America reported in 2014. However, you do not have to be past middle age to get cataracts.
Gender: Research reflects a greater risk for women developing cataracts. Overall in the U.S., women make up 61 percent of those with cataracts. Experts indicate that the reason lies with menopause. In a 2015 article published in the journal Current Eye Research, researchers said it may be the decrease in estrogen during menopause that predisposes women to get cataracts later in life. They also argue that hormone replacement therapy, as a potential preventative method for cataracts, needs more study.
Race: While 2010 NEI statistics show that the prevalence of cataracts among different races stays the same for those younger than 70, as people get older, the risk changes quite significantly. At age 70, people classified as white are 10 percent more likely to develop cataracts than people classified as black. Hispanics currently have the lowest rate of cataracts in this age group. By age 80, 70 percent of caucasian people have cataracts, compared to a little over 50 percent of people of African descent.
Health Conditions: Some health problems can create secondary eye conditions like cataracts. Diabetes is the most common, reports the NEI, and cataracts are typically one of the earliest side effects resulting from diabetes. Researchers think that an excessive accumulation of sorbitol in the tissues makes diabetics more likely to get cataracts. The Mayo Clinic lists high blood pressure and obesity as other risk factors. These factors underscore the importance of keeping on top of your health.
Habits: The NEI says poor habits affect your chances of getting cataracts. The two most typical scenarios include excess sun exposure and smoking. Although you cannot eliminate your risk of environmental exposure to these potential contaminants, the more exposure you get, the higher the risk. Ultraviolet light is a known cause of cataracts even in younger people, and this is also true for smoking. Generally, though, the cumulative effects from overexposure to UV rays can take years or even decades to advance cataract development. This means you might not know that you have a problem until much damage has been done.
Whether your personal risk is high or low, know that you can do a great deal to help prevent cataracts from getting worse.
Protecting Your Eyes
Even if you have already spent most of your lifetime getting sun at the beach for hours at a time, it is never too late to start protecting your eyes. With sun protection, healthy habits, a good diet, and regular visits to your doctor, you can hopefully detect cataracts before your vision loss becomes a debilitating problem.
Sun Protection: If you want to reduce your exposure to UV rays, start using protection right away. This includes wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat whenever you go out into the bright sun. Cataracts developing from UV exposure may take years to become a problem, so the emphasis must be on consistent protection. If you only wear sunglasses sometimes, you are only mitigating some of your risks. Make sure that your sunglasses have at least 99% protection from UVA and UVB rays. Select a light-colored but opaque hat that has a brim at least 3″ wide. (We want to bring hats back in style!)
Healthy Habits: It makes sense to take care of your body, and not just for good eye health. When you have health problems like diabetes, take the time to visit your doctor at least once a year to discuss your overall health. If you are a smoker, take steps to cut back or quit. Eat a reasonable diet and exercise regularly. Most Americans can look forward to a life expectancy in their 70s and 80s. The more you do now, the better you will feel later.
Diet: There is some evidence to suggest that the foods you eat can prevent or slow cataracts from progressing. The American Optometric Association states that increasing your consumption of foods high in antioxidants may decrease your risk of cataracts. In particular, if you consume plenty of vitamins C and E, as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, you can slow your risk of needing cataract surgery. You can get these nutrients and vitamins to prevent cataracts by eating green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and eggs.
Regular Checkups: Ultimately, the NEI states your chances are still high to develop cataracts at some point. This means that you must get regular checkups of your eyes, especially as you get older. If your doctor notices your lenses are becoming clouded or blocked by proteins, s/he can plan for you to have extra monitoring. Without monitoring, you may not realize how much your vision has decreased over time. With more frequent appointments and dilated eye exams, your doctor can determine the best treatments, and when you should consider surgery.
Careful personal care makes a big difference for your eye health.
Even though cataracts can be a devastating condition left untreated, they have one positive aspect: they take years to develop. This means you and your doctor likely have plenty of time to consider all options and make a plan for care. There are two stages to cataract surgery. The first removes the existing lens. The second replaces it with a new lens that can make you see far better, and even possibly correct other vision problems you have.
Cataracts Progression: Since cataracts generally take such a long time to become a serious concern, once found you may have months or years of monitoring before you actually require surgery. Your doctor will identify your cataracts with a comprehensive eye exam and, with repeat examinations, determine how quickly your cataracts are changing. In the initial stages, you may simply need to change your glasses prescription or use brighter lights in your home or office. However, eventually you will probably need surgery to remove your clouded lens and replace it with an artificial lens to improve your eyesight.
LenSx Laser Cataract Surgery: There are several technologies available to remove your cataracts. LenSx is considered one of the best because of the precision of the femtosecond laser used during the procedure. To remove your lens, your surgeon makes tiny slits on either side of the lens. This makes the clouded lens particularly easy to remove. The key is to remove the lens completely, which a skilled surgeon can do quickly and efficiently. After lens removal, your surgeon places a lens implant to replace it.
Advanced Technology Solutions:pre While you might expect people can only get a single-focus implantable lens, the truth is there are many choices. By providing a low-intensity light into the eye during the surgery, Optiwave Analysis gives your surgeon the most accurate data to determine the proper lens power. As part of surgery preparedness, your doctor will discuss with you the right intraocular lens to implant after cataracts removal. Advanced Technology Lenses (ATL) give you the ability to have multifocal lenses, designed to reduce dependence on glasses. If you have astigmatism, you should consider toric lenses that will increase your natural distance vision.
If you have cataracts, there are many treatment options available and a lot to learn to make an informed choice. These preventative measures can considerably minimize your risk and slow down the progress of cataracts. If you have any further questions, please contact a surgeon at Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center.