June is cataract awareness month. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 253 million people worldwide live with vision impairment and 36 million are blind. One of the top causes? Cataracts. And with a growing global population coupled with increasing life expectancy, those numbers are projected to increase. In observance of cataract education and awareness month, here are some common questions and answers about cataracts:
What exactly is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. Some cataracts are caused by certain medical conditions, medications, or eye injuries, but most cataracts are related to aging and will eventually affect most of us. Cataract removal is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the world.
While cataracts may start out small at first and have little effect on your vision, as they grow larger, they may cloud more of your lens and distort the light passing through. This may lead to more noticeable symptoms.
Are cataracts a disease?
Cataracts are not a disease, but an aging process similar to graying hair. Studies suggest that everyone who lives long enough will eventually get cataracts. However, there may be reduced risk for people who stick to a healthy diet, avoid sun exposure, do not smoke, and limit alcoholic beverages.
What are some common cataract symptoms?
Slightly blurred vision, as though looking through a piece of cloudy glass, is a common cataract symptom. In addition, lights (either from the sun or from a lamp) may appear too bright. Some people even have difficulties driving at night because the oncoming headlights cause more glare. Colors may appear faded and less colorful and eyeglass prescriptions may require frequent changes. Double vision in one eye, sensitivity to light, and the need for brighter light in order to read are also common symptoms.
How are cataracts treated?
The only way to treat a cataract is to remove it with surgery. When symptoms begin to appear, glasses, contact lenses, or better lighting may improve vision for a time. However, when cataracts progress to the point where they impair vision and affect daily life, surgery is required. Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the safest, most common and most effective surgeries in the world. During cataract surgery, the cloudy natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens known as an intraocular lens or IOL. The surgery typically lasts about 20 minutes and most people can resume normal activities fairly quickly.
Will I still need glasses after cataract surgery?
The answer is: maybe. There are different types of IOLs. Some, like a monofocal IOL, will offer clear distance vision. There are IOLs designed for people with astigmatism, known as toric IOLs, and IOLs that provide different focusing distances, known as multifocal IOLs. A newer technology, known as an extended depth of focus IOL, provides a full range of vision from near to far.
So, the answer depends on your particular visual problem and which type of IOL you and your doctor choose. But, you will likely experience an improvement in both your vision and your quality of life after cataract surgery.
How can I protect myself from cataracts?
While cataracts are not 100 percent preventable, there are some steps you can take to reduce risk. Wearing sunglasses, especially in the summer, may help. Studies show that ultraviolet radiation may cause the protein in your eye’s lens to breakdown, resulting in cataracts. Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol may also help as both increase your risk of cataracts. Choosing a healthy lifestyle may slow cataract progression.
Other factors, such as family history, medications and age, are also significant. That’s why it’s important to get regular eye examinations with a qualified doctor.