National Cataracts Awareness Month


National Cataracts Awareness MonthA cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that causes gradual loss of vision.  By age 80, more than half of all Americans have either a cataract or have had cataract surgery, and they are one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide.

The lenses of our eyes are made mostly of water and protein. Normal changes that occur with aging cause some of this protein to break down and clump together. Like a cloud, a cataract blocks light from passing through the lens and can lead to loss of vision and blindness over time.

When a cataract is first formed not much of a change may be noticed, but as the “cloud” over the lens grows, vision becomes blurry, as if looking through a foggy or dirty window. It may be harder to read, or to see at night, and colors may look faded. Sometimes the light from lamps, sunlight, or headlights could seem overly bright or appear to have a halo around them.

As we get older, the likelihood of developing cataracts increases. Other risk factors include smoking, prolonged sun exposure, family history of cataracts, diabetes, long term steroid use, eye injuries, diseases, infections or surgery, radiation treatments to the upper body and certain conditions before birth, such as German measles in the mother.

When a cataract first starts, symptoms may improve with eyeglasses or a magnifying lens, antiglare sunglasses or brighter lighting. If these don’t help, and activities like driving and reading become difficult, surgery is the only effective treatment. This is completed by removing the cloudy lens, and replacing it with a new one. This usually takes less than 30 minutes and has about a 90% success rate.                                                                                               

An eye doctor can check for cataracts as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. During this simple and painless exam, the doctor uses eye drops to dilate (widen) the pupils and check the eyes for cataracts and other eye problems. For people age 60 or older, a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every 1-2 years is recommended.

To delay a cataract, wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Also, stop smoking and eat healthy foods including a variety of dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables and fruits.         

References and resources: Cataract Animation, National Eye Institute, NIH