If you have a cataract, your vision may be blurry or hazy or colors may seem less vibrant. But what exactly is a cataract? And what can you do to prevent one?
What is a cataract?
Inside our eyes, there is a transparent structure behind the iris (the colored part of the eye) called the lens. The lens, along with the cornea, helps to focus objects from the outside world on the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye that receives light and sends the image through the optic nerve to the brain. A cataract is a cloudy or opaque area in the normally clear lens of the eye. Cataracts can interfere with normal vision because they scatter the light and the lens cannot focus it properly. The extent to which vision is impaired is largely due to the cataract’s size, location, and density. Cataracts usually develop in both eyes but one may be worse than the other.[i] And they are more common than you might think. By age 75, most people will have cataracts.
How are cataracts formed?
The lens of the eye is primarily made up of proteins and water. Changes in the proteins and fibers of the lens due to age can cause it to become cloudy or opaque. But not all cataracts are age-related. Other factors can contribute to cataract formation including diabetes, certain medications, exposure to ultraviolet light or radiation, smoking, alcohol consumption and nutritional deficiency.[ii]
What can I do to prevent cataracts?
While there is no treatment to slow cataract progression and no scientific proof that cataracts can be prevented, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk factors.
- See your eye doctor regularly. Making your eye health a priority and scheduling yearly eye exams, even if your vision is clear and healthy, gives your eye care professional the opportunity to look for signs of cataracts and other vision disorders. Early detection could even save your sight.[iii]
- Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol consumption.“Research suggests that smoking may double your chances of developing cataracts.”[iv] Excess alcohol consumption can also increase your chance of developing cataracts.[v]
- Shade your eyes from the sun.To reduce your exposure, always wear a wide brimmed hat when outdoors and use sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection in all seasons.[vi]
- Eat a nutrient rich diet Researches believe that good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataracts. Leafy green vegetables, fruit and other foods with antioxidants are recommended.[vii]Maintaining healthy blood sugar is also important for both your overall health and the health of your eyes. Data suggests that people with diabetes are at a greater risk for developing cataracts.[viii]
Is there research being done?
The National Eye Institute is conducting and supporting many studies that focus on factors associated with age-related cataract development. Some studies include the effect of sunlight exposure, vitamin supplements and genetic studies.