Approximately 20.5 million Americans age forty and older are affected by cataracts, a concern for 50% of those aged 65-74 and 70% of those over age 74. These statistics are staggering as cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in adults, causing 48% of world blindness. Today more adults than ever are facing blindness due to eye diseases.
More than six million seniors have vision loss. Nine million between the ages of 45-65 have some form of vision loss. Baby boomers will reach retirement age of 65 between 2011 and 2030. It is estimated that, by 2030, the number of adults facing severe vision loss will double.
Most people have heard of a cataract but may not know what it is. The condition is described as a “clouding of the lens on the eye” and can range from slight to complete blockage of light. It can occur in one or both eyes, but usually affects both and starts in one eye before the other; however it cannot spread from one eye to the other.
Cataracts cause light rays to be no longer focused by the lens, but instead they are scattered before reaching the retina, causing a loss of ability to perceive details. Cataracts can start out mildly and have little effect on vision at first, but as the condition worsens, so does the impact on vision.
Not all cataracts need to be treated, but all should be immediately seen by an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who provides the full spectrum of eye and vision care, to determine if treatment is needed. If left untreated, the disease can lead to glaucoma and complete blindness.
Cataracts form when aging or injury changes the tissue of the lens of the eye. Sometimes due to heredity, cataracts can also be caused by a number of environmental factors, such as exposure to radiation or microwave radiation, long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, iodine deficiency, secondary effects of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and advanced age, or due to physical injury or trauma. Cataracts can also be caused by some drugs such as corticosteroids and Seroquel.
Ways of preventing cataracts are not scientifically proven, but it’s believed that wearing sunglasses with ultraviolet light protection can slow the onset and progression of cataracts. Also, regular intake of antioxidants (like vitamins A, C and E) can help prevent cataracts. Randomized trials with the lesser–known antioxidant N-acetylcarnosine have shown it to be effective in treating cataracts. In a 1% eye drop solution applied twice a day for four months transparency of the lens improved in all severities of cataracts. Further research is being done with other antioxidants and methods, but currently, the most effective way of dealing with cataracts is surgery when the condition interferes with daily activities.
Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in people over the age of sixty-five, and considered one of the safest and most effective medical procedures. This out-patient surgery performed under local anesthetic only takes about an hour to complete. The cloudy lens is removed and an intraocular lens is implanted. If both eyes are affected, the surgeries are performed weeks or months apart, one eye at a time. Patients now have choices in how they want their vision to be after the surgery. Choose from mono-focus lenses that will correct the vision for the best distance that you like to see, multi-focus lenses that correct the vision in all three zones: near, arm’s length, and distance. Choose wisely as replacing the lens is not a great option. In about 95% of cataract surgeries, the patient’s vision is improved, and in over 85% the vision is restored to at least 20/40 within a year.
With cataracts and other eye diseases on the rise, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of cataracts to watch for, so treatment can be sought early on. If left untreated, many cataracts can lead to blindness. So if any of the following are noticed, see your doctor immediately:
- Clouded, blurred or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in a single eye
The best prevention at this time is to keep up with your annual eye exams and to tell your doctor about any changes or problems you notice with your vision. This will help you catch cataracts early on. Remember, with early treatment, cataracts can be taken care of effectively. Don’t be one of the baby boomers that wait until your vision is so poor that it affects your daily life activities. Spread the word. Tell a neighbor about Cataract Awareness Month!
Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sanitasole.net for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.