A cataract is an area in the lens of the eye, made up of clumps of protein, that clouds vision and diminishes eyesight. Cataracts are common in older Americans. By age 75, half of all white Americans and around 40 percent of black Americans will have developed cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Symptoms of cataracts
Someone with cataracts will experience gradually worsening vision. As a cataract progresses, vision will become more and more cloudy or blurry. Some other symptoms of cataracts include seeing faded colors, halo around lights, double vision, or the inability to see well at night. It’s difficult to know if you have a cataract based on these symptoms, however, as other eye diseases may behave in a similar manner.
If the symptoms progress to a point where the person with cataracts is nearly blind, surgery will need to be done. Thankfully, cataract surgery is very safe, and 9 out of 10 people who get it will have improved vision. No treatments other than surgery can correct cataracts.
Who’s at risk for cataracts?
Older people are more likely to develop cataracts, especially those who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, have diabetes, take steroids, or have a family history of cataracts. White people are also more likely to have cataracts than blacks or Hispanics.
How to prevent cataracts
Cataracts may appear regardless of lifestyle choices, but there are things you can do to help prevent them.
Quitting smoking, for example, will greatly help your eye health. Eating healthy is also something that can reduce your risk for cataracts; make sure to get lots of leafy green vegetables, like spinach, kale, and collard greens in your diet. If you’re over the age of 60, try to get a dilated eye exam every two years to check for cataracts.
But what many don’t know is that exposure to intense sunlight has been linked to the development of cataracts. Most are aware that the sun can cause skin cancer, but being in the sun for too long can also damage the eyes, increasing your risk for various eye diseases including cataracts, macular degeneration, and even eye cancer.
If you’re concerned about getting cataracts, sunglasses are crucial. You’ll need a pair that blocks ultraviolet rays — specifically, 99 or 100 percent of them. UV rays can cause cancer, even if you’re exposed to them for a short period of time. You may think that wearing sunglasses is only important in the summer, but the truth is that the sun can be just as intense in other seasons. Even if you don’t feel it on your skin, it can be harming your eyes. In addition to sunglasses, you might want to wear a hat with a wide brim to further prevent your exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Taking care of your eyes, whether through diet, eye protection, or other lifestyle changes, is the best thing you can do to prevent cataracts.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld