Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens, which should be clear. This results is blurry vision or what’s often described as looking through a fogged-up window. With more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, it’s a prevalent but also often misunderstood condition.
During Cataract Awareness Month, here are 10 things you might not know about cataracts.
- Cataracts most often affect adults—more than 24 million Americans over the age of 40 have cataracts. However, children and young adults can develop them as well. By age 80, more than half of Americans will have cataracts.
- Treating cataracts is relatively simple with a 15-20-minute safe and effective surgery in which a doctor replaces the clouded lens with an intraocular lens. Cataracts surgery has a success rate of 95 percent and is one of the most common surgeries in the United States. Each year more than 3 million Americans have cataract surgery.
- If not treated, cataracts can do serious damage. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the United States and around the world. However, even when someone is legally blind due to cataracts, surgery can restore eyesight in many cases. Around the world, however, there are 18 million needlessly blind cataract patients who need surgery but it isn’t available.
- In some cases, a “secondary cataract” may form after cataract surgery. Experts say it’s not actually another cataract rather by a hazy membrane that forms behind the intraocular lens known as posterior capsule opacity. It’s easily treated with a simple procedure.
- While there’s no proven way to prevent age-related cataracts, healthy lifestyle choices such as limiting exposure to UV rays, eating a healthy diet and not smoking may help slow their progression.
- A diet rich in antioxidants including vitamin E, beta-carotene (your mom was right about those carrots!) and selenium may help protect eyes from cataracts. The American Optometric Association recommends at least 250 milligrams of vitamin C daily, which is found in foods such as green hot chili peppers, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, leafy greens and oranges.
- Cloudy vision isn’t the only symptom of cataracts. Others may include difficulty in seeing at night, sensitivity to light, double vision in one eye and a need for frequent changes to one’s eyeglass or contact lens prescription.
- Beyond age, some other causes of cataracts may include injury to the eye, diabetes, long-term-use of steroid medicines and previous eye surgery. Other things that may be risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
- Scientists have done promising research on eye drops that may help prevent or even reverse cataracts. While more study is necessary, they may one day prove to be a good alternative to surgery.
- Eye Care America provides free eye exams for people age 65 and older who qualify.