June has been designated as Cataract Awareness Month by Preventing Blindness America (PBA), a non-profit organization. As part of Cataract Awareness Month, each June, PBA and other organizations present information and resources to educate the public on the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options available to those with cataract.
“Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world,” PBA reported in its news release announcing Cataract Awareness Month for 2011.
“There are more cases of cataract than there are of glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy combined,” PBA said. “Today, cataract affects more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 75, approximately 70 percent of people have cataracts. And, as the U.S. population ages, more than 30.1 million Americans are projected to have cataracts by the year 2020.”
According to a recent Health Alert published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, “If you’re age 60 or older and don’t have any sign of cataracts, chances are you will soon. In the United States, 75 percent of people over age 60 have some sign of cataracts. In fact, cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure in the United States with over 1.6 million operations performed annually.”
Information About Cataracts
Introduction to Cataracts. Prevent Blindness America (PBA), the sponsor of Cataract Awareness Month, offers basic Fact Sheets on:
- Vision Problems in the U.S.: Cataract (providing facts and statistics on the prevalence of cataracts in the U.S.);
- Facts and Myths About Cataracts (debunking common myths about cataracts, and presenting the corresponding facts). For example, did you know that, according to PBA, the following are all untrue myths?
- Only older Americans develop cataracts
- Taking Vitamin E or Vitamin C can prevent cataracts
- The best time to have cataract surgery done is when it is first diagnosed.
- Taking aspirin can prevent cataracts
- Lasers are used to remove cataracts
- Cataracts can be treated with eye drops
- Guide to Cataract Surgery (providing basic information about why cataracts form, the different types of cataracts, symptoms & diagnosis of a cataract, and what to discuss with your eye doctor and surgeon about whether to have cataract surgery).
The facts on these and other topics are presented by PBA in its Facts and Myths About Cataracts Fact Sheet
Prevent Blindness America (PBA) is a non-profit eye health and safety organization founded in 1908, with the mission of fighting blindness and saving sight.
What Are Cataracts? According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, “A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision.”
“The lens is a clear part of the eye that helps to focus light, or an image, on the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye,” the NEI explains. “In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina. Once it reaches the retina, light is changed into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred,” the NEI states.
What Causes Cataracts? “Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people,” according to the NEI. “By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery,” the NEI states.
According to the recent Health Alert from Johns Hopkins Medicine, “The cause of most cataracts is unknown, but at least two factors associated with aging contribute to cataract development:
- Clumping of proteins in the lens leads to scattering of light and a decrease in the transparency of the lens, and
- The breakdown of lens proteins leads to the accumulation of a yellow-brown pigment that clouds the lens.”
“Researchers have found certain chemical changes in the eyes of people with cataracts. These changes include a reduced uptake of oxygen by the lens and a rise in the water content of the lens, which is followed by dehydration,” according to Johns Hopkins.
“When cataracts form, levels of calcium and sodium in the lens increase, and levels of potassium, vitamin C and protein decrease. In addition, lenses with cataracts appear to be deficient in the antioxidant glutathione,” Johns Hopkins states.
What are the Symptoms of Cataracts? According to WebbMD, “Cataracts usually form slowly and cause few symptoms until they noticeable block light. When symptoms are present, they can include:
- Vision that is cloudy, blurry, foggy, or filmy.
- Progressive nearsightedness in older people often called “second sight” because they may no longer need glasses.
- Changes in the way you see color because the discolored lens acts as a filter.
- Problems driving at night such as glare from oncoming headlights.
- Problems with glare during the day.
- Double vision.
- Sudden changes in glasses prescription.”
The Mayo Clinic indicates that “To determine whether you have a cataract, your doctor will perform an eye exam that may include:
- Asking you to read an eye chart (visual acuity test).
- Using a light and magnification to examine your eye (slit-lamp examination).
- Dilating your eyes (retinal examination).”
What Treatments Exist for Cataracts? “Currently, no effective drug therapy exists to prevent cataracts from forming,” according to the Johns Hopkins’ Health Alert. Although lenses affected by cataracts appear to be deficient in potassium, vitamin C, protein and glutathione, as observed above, nevertheless “Studies on the use of medications or vitamins to alter the levels of these substances in the lens have not produced promising results,” Johns Hopkins reports.
According to PBA’s Fact Sheet on Facts and Myths About Cataracts, “Surgery is the only proven treatment for cataract. Cataracts cannot be treated with medicines.”
The Mayo Clinic advises that “It’s up to you and your doctor to decide when cataract surgery is right for you. For most people, there is no rush to remove cataracts because they usually don’t harm the eye. Delaying the procedure won’t make it more likely that you won’t recover your vision if you eventually decide to have cataract surgery. Take time to consider the benefits and risks of cataract surgery with your doctor.”
“If you choose not to undergo cataract surgery for now, your eye doctor may recommend periodic follow-up exams to see if your cataracts are progressing. How often you’ll see your eye doctor depends on your situation,” the Mayo Clinic states.
Prevention of Cataracts. “Cigarette smoking, certain medications, eye injuries, sunlight, diabetes and even obesity can increase the risk of cataracts,” according to Johns Hopkins.
The Mayo Clinic advises, “doctors think you may be able to reduce your risk of cataracts if you:
- Have regular eye exams. Eye exams can help detect cataracts and other eye problems at their earliest stages. Ask your doctor how often you should have an eye exam.
- Quit smoking. Ask your doctor for help to stop smoking. Medications, counseling and other strategies are available to help you.
- Wear sunglasses. Ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts. Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays when you’re outdoors.
- Take care of other health problems. Follow your treatment plan if you have diabetes or other medical conditions that can increase your risk of cataracts.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is a healthy one, work to maintain it by exercising most days of the week. If you’re overweight or obese, work to lose weight slowly by reducing your calorie intake and increasing the amount of exercise you get each day.
- Choose a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Adding a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet ensures that you’re getting a lot of vitamins and nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which in theory could prevent damage to your eye’s lens. Studies haven’t proven that antioxidants in pill form can prevent cataracts. But fruits and vegetables have many proven health benefits and are a safe way to increase the amount of vitamins in your diet.”
- News on Eyesight Problems;
- What Are They; Causes;
- Symptoms & Diagnosis;
See also the National Eye Institute’s website on Facts About Cataract.
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