-- About 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, one of the most curable causes of vision loss. And more than half of all persons in the US develop cataracts by age 80.
During August’s Cataract Awareness Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and Eye M.D.s around the nation want to remind people they do not have to live with cataracts.
A cataract is the clouding of the eye's normally clear lens, blocking the passage of light needed for vision.
Cataracts form slowly and cause no pain. Some stay small and hardly affect vision, but if the cataract does grow and begin to affect vision, it can usually be removed with surgery.
According to the National Eye Institute, a cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.
Cataract Treatment, Prognosis is Favorable
The AAO states that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. But, in most cases, vision loss from cataracts is reversible.
New techniques developed over the past decade have made cataract surgery one of the safest and most successful procedures available in terms of restoring quality of life to patients, according to the AAO.
Physician experts from the AAO say there are no drugs or exercises that will make a cataract disappear, and contrary to popular belief, cataracts are not removed using lasers. However, lasers may be used in follow-up procedures, if needed. For example, lasers may be used to remove film that may grow on the lens implant.
Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure in the US, with more than 1.6 million procedures performed each year. The AAO states that new advances and techniques have made cataract surgery one of the most successful and life-improving surgical procedures.
Cataract surgery is most often performed as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia, according to the AAO. The cloudy natural lens can be replaced with an artificial lens to give the eye proper focusing power. In most cases, the improvement in vision is profound.
Although it is very safe and effective, having cataract surgery is a major decision and you need to carefully decide if it is right for you. If the cataract does not interfere with your life, you may decide surgery is not warranted. The AAO's advice is to talk to your Eye M.D. if cataracts are interfering with your lifestyle.
Talk to Your Physician
According to the National Eye Institute, the most common symptoms of a cataract are:
cloudy or blurry vision
colors seem faded
glare from headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright
a halo appearing around lights
poor night vision
double vision or multiple images in one eye (this symptom may clear as the cataract gets larger)
frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses
These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional.
The AAO states there are no medications or exercises that will prevent the formation or progression of cataracts, nor are there any to make a cataract disappear.
Nutritional or vitamin supplements have been shown to be beneficial in populations with nutritional deficits. Due to the inconsistent results reported in clinical trials, more specific recommendations cannot be made at this time.
However, the American Dietetic Association reports that studies have looked at how antioxidant compounds like vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene can prevent or at least delay cataract formation.
The results of the studies are still preliminary, but it appears the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the more benefits you reap. In addition, whole grains, vegetable oils, and other foods rich in vitamin E also seem to help.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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More About Cataracts
A cataract is a clouding or opaque area over the lens of the eye - an area that is normally transparent.
As this thickening occurs, it prevents light rays from passing through the lens and focusing on the retina - the light sensitive tissue lining located in the back of the eye. This clouding is caused when some of the protein which makes up the lens begins to clump together and interferes with vision.
The word "cataract" literally means "waterfall." For persons with an advanced cataract that covers a large portion of the eye lens, vision can be described as trying to see through a waterfall.
In its early stages, a cataract may not cause a problem. The cloudiness may affect only a small part of the lens.
However, the cataract may grow larger over time and affect more of the lens, making it harder to see. As less light reaches the retina, it becomes increasingly harder to see and vision may become dull and blurry.
Although scientists do not know for sure what causes cataracts, they suspect there could be several possible causes including:
excessive exposure to sunlight
diuretic (water pill) use
certain major tranquilizers (medications used to treat anxiety)
For several of the potential causes listed (i.e., steroids, diuretics, and/or major tranquilizers), additional research is needed to differentiate the effect of the disease from the effect of the drugs themselves.
Often in the disease's early stages, you may not notice any changes in your vision. Since cataracts tend to grow slowly, your vision will worsen gradually.
Certain cataracts can also cause a temporary improvement in close-up vision, but this is likely to worsen as the cataract grows. The symptoms of cataracts may resemble other eye conditions.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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