What You Need to Know
Because cataracts are the principal cause of blindness in the world, it’s important for everyone to understand what a cataract is and how it can be treated. A cataract is a medical condition in which the eye’s lens clouds and causes blurred vision or complete vision loss. There are many misconceptions about cataracts, including who the condition affects and when surgery is needed.
In recognition of Cataract Awareness Month, here are five things you should know about cataracts:
1. Although cataracts are often associated with aging, anyone can develop cataracts – and sometimes they can be present at birth.
Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40. Of Americans aged 40 years and older, an estimated 20.5 million, or 17.2%, have a cataract in one or both eyes, and 6.1 million, or 5.1%, have had their lens removed operatively, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although these numbers show the effect of cataracts on people over 40, cataracts can occur at any age for a variety reasons and can be present at birth. When babies are born with cataracts, known as congenital or pediatric cataracts, the condition often occurs due to abnormal lens development during pregnancy, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS). Children can also develop cataracts, and approximately 3 out of 10,000 children have a cataract, according to the AAPOS.
2. Although you are more at risk for developing cataracts as you age, there are other factors that can increase the risk.
Factors that increase the risk of developing cataracts include diabetes, smoking, excess alcohol use, eye injury, nutrition deficiency and prolonged exposure to sunlight or radiation.
3. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting the right nutrients can help prevent cataracts from developing.
Certain carotenoids, or antioxidants, may protect against cataracts, according to the American Optometric Association. The two types of carotenoids that studies show help in cataract prevention include lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the only carotenoids located in the eye. Maintaining a diet that incorporates these nutrients can be beneficial in preventing cataracts. The American Optometric Association suggests eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, which can provide about 5 to 6 mg of carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin. Some foods rich in these nutrients include kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, peas, turnip greens and tangerines.
4. Not every cataract case requires surgery.
Although surgery is the only way to completely treat vision loss caused by cataracts, whether or not surgery is needed depends on one’s specific condition and needs. For some adults, contacts, glasses or other vision aids can be just as effective without the risks associated with surgical procedures. Cataract surgery for adults becomes necessary when the condition interferes with their ability to do normal, everyday tasks.
Like adults, not all cataracts in babies and children need to be removed. However, surgery is always recommended if the cataract has the potential to interfere with the child’s normal vision development, according to the AAPOS.
5. More and more Americans are developing cataracts.
In just the next six years – by 2020 – the total number of Americans with cataracts is estimated to increase to 30.1 million, according to the CDC. This increase can be attributed to the spike in baby boomers that will reach the age of 65 within the next decade, according to an article in Ocular Surgery News. This will lead to an increase in demand for cataract surgery in coming years. In 2008, the organization Prevent Blindness America reported that direct medical costs for cataract treatment are estimated at $6.8 billion annually.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of a cataract, such as cloudy or blurred vision, see your eye doctor for an exam. And remember, getting an annual eye exam and staying healthy and active will help protect your vision.