“Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss. But, they can be treated successfully and in most cases corrected with a surgical procedure,” said Lawrence Najarian, a board-certified M.D. ophthalmologist with a sub-specialty in uveitis, and Founder and Medical Director of Bedminster Eye and Laser Center.
While most cataracts are caused by normal changes in your eyes as you get older, individuals may also develop cataracts as a result of other conditions, such as trauma, radiation, or previous eye surgery. Babies may be born with them. Certain cataracts may be brought about by health conditions such as diabetes, or long-term use of steroid medications. Also, lifestyle choices such as smoking, consuming excessive alcohol, or prolonged exposure to the sun without proper eye protection.
Age-related cataracts are common and a natural part of aging. Most develop gradually. They occur when the normally clear lens in your eye becomes cloudy from natural proteins that build up over time. Typically, the formation of cataracts begins to show up at age 55. Others can develop more quickly.
By getting an annual eye exam to check your overall eye health, your eye physician can assess your risk of getting cataracts, diagnose a cataract, and monitor the progression. At first, cataracts might not cause any problems, but over time, they may. If symptoms are mild, you might just need a new prescription for glasses or contacts, a magnifying glass, or more lighting. When these are no longer helpful, surgery may be recommended.
Common symptoms of a cataract include cloudy or blurry vision, poor night vision, and double vision. Colors may also appear faded, and bright lights such as headlights and sunlight can create glares or a halo effect.
While cataracts are a rite of passage for getting older, there are several things you can do to prevent early-onset or slow down the progression.
- Choose a healthy lifestyle. Take a look at your diet and make sure you are eating foods rich in antioxidants. If you smoke, stop!
- Manage other health problems such as diabetes. Get routine eye check-ups. Wear proper eye protection to avoid eye injury.
- Prevent sun damage to your eyes. Wear sunglasses year-round that block UVA and UVB rays.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends wearing sunglasses (or transition lenses) that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging UV rays that cause cataracts and other eye diseases — every day of the year, not just in the summer.
“I encourage everyone to learn about cataracts and what you can do to minimize your risk,” Dr. Najarian added. “If you are experiencing anything of concern, be sure to talk with your eye doctor.”
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