A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye, which makes it seem that you are viewing the world through a fogged-up window. Symptoms progress slowly and can make it difficult to read, drive or see the expression on a friend’s face.
Cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 75, approximately half of all Americans have cataracts.
Signs and symptoms of cataracts
- Cloudy, blurred or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in a single eye
Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens. Some inherited genetic disorders or underlying medical conditions can also increase your risk. Still, there are actions you can take to reduce your chances.
Tips to reduce your risk of cataracts
- Have regular eye examinations. This is important to maintain your vision and the overall health of your eyes.
- Quit smoking or never start.
- Manage your diabetes. People with diabetes mellitus face a 60 percent greater risk of developing cataracts. Maintaining good control of your blood sugar levels will help reduce your risk.
- Control high blood pressure.
- Lose weight. Obesity is a risk factor for cataracts.
- Protect your eyes from injuries. Eye injuries can cause long-term damage that increases the risk of cataracts. Wear the appropriate protective goggles and face shields when working or playing sports.
- Choose a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables have many antioxidants that help maintain healthy eyes. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals is also important. And studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, as well as flaxseed, can help reduce risk.
- Wear sunglasses. Ultraviolet light from the sun can damage eyes and may contribute to the development of cataracts. Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays when you’re outdoors.
- Reduce alcohol use.
- Avoid using corticosteroid medications for any length of time. Always ask your doctor about risk factors when starting a new drug regimen.
There is no non-medical intervention for cataracts; they can be removed only with surgery. If your symptoms are not bothering you very much, you may just need a new eyeglass prescription to help you see better. You should consider surgery when cataracts keep you from doing things you want or need to do. During surgery, your eye surgeon will remove your eye’s cloudy natural lens and replace it with an artificial lens (called an intraocular lens or IOL). Fortunately, cataract surgery is a very safe and effective procedure. Consult your eye doctor to determine if and when surgery is right for you.