Did you know that June is Cataract Awareness Month? That’s right, there’s a whole month devoted to making sure that you are knowledgeable on the world’s leading cause of blindness.
51% of blindness in the world today has been caused by cataracts, totalling about 95 million individuals. That’s why it’s important that you’re aware of what a cataract is, how to identify it, and how to avoid and treat it. The more you recognize early signs and stages, the more likely you are to catch the disease and stop it in its tracks.
Here’s what you need to know about cataracts.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s lens, which is the part of your eye that helps you focus on light, images, and shapes. The eye’s lens sends what it sees to the retina, which translates it to the brain. If the lens is clouded, the brain will not be able to accurately read what you see.
A cataract is the result of tissue breakdown and protein clumping, which causes blurred vision and blindness if left untreated. A cataract can occur in one eye, or both—however, a cataract does not “spread” from one eye to the other.
What types of cataracts are there, and who’s susceptible?
There are three types of cataracts: nuclear sclerotic, sub-capsular, and cortical.
- Nuclear scleroci cataracts are usually brought on by age, and are caused by the gradual hardening and yellowing of the lens nucleus.
- Sub-capsular cataracts occurs in the back of the lens, and it’s prevalent in diabetic individuals and those who intake high doses of steroidal medications.
- Cortical cataracts occur in the lens cortex, and appear as white, wedge-like opacities in the lens that slowly work their way towards the center of the eye.
Cataracts often have these five causes and affect a wide range of individuals.
- Age-related cataracts are the most common form of cataract and affect older individuals starting at age 40. These become more prevalent with age.
- Congenital cataracts affect babies who are born with the disease. They are usually removed by a pediatric surgeon while the child is young.
- Secondary cataracts are caused by an individual’s high intake of steroids—such as diabetes patients and those who have been diagnosed with glaucoma.
- Traumatic cataracts develop after an individual undergoes an injury to the eye— although, sometimes it takes years for the cataract to develop.
- Radiation cataracts develop in individuals who undergo radiation treatment.
All forms of cataracts affect both men and women equally, and the disease is most prevalent in individuals over the age of 55.
How is a cataract diagnosed and treated?
A cataract is diagnosed by an eye doctor through a simple visual acuity test, dilated eye exam, or ocular tonometry. Once diagnosed, treatment takes a wide variety of forms depending on the stage of the cataract.
If it’s caught in its early stages, simply getting new glasses, bifocals, and other visual aids can help. If the cataract has progressed to a point of impairing your vision, then cataract microsurgery is performed.
Cataract surgery is virtually painless and simple. It involves removing the clouded lens, and usually replacing it with an IOL. Fortunately, cataract surgery is extremely successful in restoring vision to eyes that have been affected by the disease. However, the earlier the disease is caught, the better. Late stages of cataracts make it harder to fully restore vision via surgery.
What are cataract symptoms, and what increases your risk of being diagnosed?
Early signs and symptoms of cataracts include:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Faded colors
- Glaring lights
- Sunlight sensitivity
- Halo effect around lights
- Poor vision at night or in the dark
- Frequent changes in glasses prescription
It’s also important to note that a cataract does not cause itching, redness, or discomfort. It’s a painless disease, which makes it easy to go unnoticed. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention to any changes in your vision.
There are some things that can increase your risk of developing cataract, such as:
- UV Radiation from sunlight or other sources
- Prolonged use of corticosteroid medication
- Use of statin medication for cholesterol
- Hormone replacement surgery or medication
- Previous eye surgery
- Previous eye injury
- Glaucoma or diabetes
- Smoking and nicotine consumption
How can I prevent and avoid cataracts?
While the development of a cataract is extremely common, especially in older adults, there are some preventative steps that can be taken to help minimize your risk of developing cataracts.
One way to slow the progression of cataract is by limiting exposure to UV light rays, and by always protecting your eyes in the sun with UV-protection sunglasses. Reducing or eliminating nicotine and alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy diet can also help keep your eyes healthy. If you wear glasses, it’s important to be sure that your prescription is up-to-date and accurate.
Because cataracts develop gradually and painlessly, it’s extremely important that all individuals attend regular eye exams by their optometrist. Only an eye doctor can spot and diagnose cataracts early on. The sooner your catch it, the better your chances are for a full restoration of eyesight and health.
In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, be sure you make a conscious effort to protect your eyes from the risks of cataracts this June and in the future. Spread the word on what a cataract is, who’s at risk, and how you can defend yourself from the world’s leading cause of blindness!
At Williamson Eye Institute, we are dedicated to assisting our patients with their vision and eye-related needs throughout the years. To find out more about our services, visit our website or call our office to schedule a personal consultation. You can also find us on Facebook or LinkedIn.