Prevent Blindness America has declared June as Cataract Awareness Month. Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and it is the leading cause of blindness in the world. There are 24 million Americans over the age of 40 who are affected by cataracts, so it seems fitting that an entire month should be dedicated to education and awareness.
In anticipation of Cataract Awareness Month, here are some common questions and answers about cataracts:
What causes cataracts?
The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it.
But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
What are the symptoms of a cataract?
The most common symptoms of a cataract are:
Cloudy or blurry vision.
Colors seem faded.
Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright. A halo may appear around lights.
Poor night vision.
Double vision or multiple images in one eye. (This symptom may clear as the cataract gets larger.)
Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses.
These symptoms also can be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional.
How is a cataract detected?
Cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes:
Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
Dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test.
Your eye care professional also may do other tests to learn more about the structure and health of your eye.
What is the treatment for cataracts?
Even though cataracts are so prevalent, they are very simple to treat. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents passage of light into the eye. The solution to cataracts is cataract surgery, which requires a surgeon to remove the deteriorated lens and replace it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens or IOL.
Over 3 million Americans undergo cataract surgery annually, making it one of the most common surgeries in the United States. In fact, the entire surgery lasts only about 20 minutes, and most people can resume normal activities fairly rapidly.
Do cataracts only affect seniors?
Cataracts can develop any time. Most people associate cataracts with aging after 70. However, the exact time when these cataracts begin to form varies. Cataracts most commonly start to develop between the ages of 50 and 70. Sometimes they may develop earlier if an eye injury occurs or if a person develops a medical condition.
Depending on a variety of factors, which include age, lifestyle, occupation and injuries, cataracts may form in one or both eyes. Cataracts usually grow denser with age.
Can I prevent cataracts?
Cataracts, in general, cannot be prevented, especially those that are age-related. However, annual eye exams can preempt their onset before vision loss becomes severe.
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