Cataracts: What to Know About the Causes & Treatments
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Cataracts: What to Know About the Causes & Treatments

Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Closer to home, there are currently more than 24 million Americans age 40 and older who have cataracts and more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have visually significant cataracts or have had surgery to remove cataracts. 

A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, which blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. Cataracts are part of the normal aging process but once they interfere with the clarity of your vision on a day-to-day basis, you can consider having cataract surgery to remove them.    

While a cataract generally does not cause pain, redness or tearing, it can impact your vision. Signs of cataract include:

  • Blurred vision, double vision in one eye, ghost images, or the sense of a film over the eyes
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Seeing a halo around lights
  • Normal lighting, the sun, and headlights seem too bright
  • Needing to change your eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions often
  • A milky or white spot in the normally black pupil of your eye

While age certainly plays a part in the development of cataracts there are other risk factors, such as:

  • Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun
  • Certain diseases, such as diabetes
  • Inflammation in the eye
  • Family history of cataracts
  • Events before birth, such as German measles in the mother
  • Taking steroids
  • Eye injuries
  • Eye diseases
  • Smoking

While cataracts cannot be prevented entirely, you can help delay their onset and progression with healthy lifestyle choices, including: 

  • Wearing protective eyewear to shield eyes from UV rays
  • Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Maintaining a balanced diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin C
  • Managing underlying medical conditions like diabetes
  • Wearing protective eyewear while using power tools or playing certain sports to protect your eyes from injury
  • Scheduling regular comprehensive eye exams, especially after age 40

If there is good news to be had about cataracts, it is this: unlike many eye diseases, vision loss due to cataracts can be restored. Cataracts can be fixed with surgery and, for many patients, they can become less dependent on glasses after cataract surgery is done.

Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures in the U.S.—approximately 3.5 million performed last year alone—with a 95 percent success rate and short recovery time. As an added bonus, a new study found that cataract surgery patients had a significantly reduced rate of hip fractures from falls.

As noted, regular eye exams are key to spotting cataracts. If found in the early stages, surgery may not be immediately necessary. You may be able to get by with a change to your prescription, using anti-glare glasses to drive, and amping up the wattage of the lighting in your home. However, if your vision is impaired to a degree that impacts your daily living and safety, make an appointment to talk to your eye doctor about surgery. If you’re concerned about the cost of potential surgery, you’ll be happy to learn that while Medicare doesn’t cover routine vision care, it does cover the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts, including cataract surgery.  

 

Erik Niemi, DO, is an ophthalmology specialist at Advanced Eyecare in Bennington, VT.

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