Cataracts and You

July 19, 2012

Over half of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from cataracts, and they are one of the leading causes of vision loss in the elderly. Cataracts is a clouding that develops in the lens of the eye or on the covering of the lens. It can range in opacity from mild to complete opacity, with the latter end of the spectrum resulting in complete vision loss. The transition from mild opacity to total blindness is an extended process, so with treatment, patients can often avoid losing their sight.
Causes and Risk Factors
Though no one is entirely sure what causes cataracts, studies have shown that certain individuals have higher risk factors than others. Genetic factors are often a significant player, and individuals with a family history of cataracts or other eye diseases should be especially cautious about their ocular health. Age is another huge contributor to clouding formation; individuals over 60 years old are at a higher risk than other groups. Long term exposure to UV light and the use of certain drugs can encourage cataract formation. Smoking and alcohol use also increase risk factor.
Certain diseases can also aggravate the potential for cataracts, including hypertension and diabetes. Diabetes is known to accelerate ocular disease, especially cataracts, so diabetic patients need to pay special attention to their vision and any difficulties they might experience so that they can be sure to get the medical care their eyes need as soon as possible.
The symptoms of cataracts can be hard to detect to notice until the disease has progressed significantly, making it difficult to diagnose early without regular eye exams. Some of the symptoms patients may notice when the disease has progressed enough are foggy or blurry vision, nearsightedness in older patients, changes in color perception, double vision, and difficulty with glare both at night and during the day.
Diagnosing cataracts presence requires an eye exam, normally with pupil dilation. Patients without risk factors should undergo an eye examination once every two years until age 60. However, if you are a contact lens or eyeglass wearer, you have to have your eyes examined annually to keep your prescription valid. At age 60, all patients should begin seeing their optometrist annually. Patients with diabetes, hypertension, or a family history of eye disease should see their eye doctor every year, regardless of age, and should follow their doctor's recommendations if more visits should be needed annually to monitor their eyes' condition.
Cataracts can be treated in many ways if they're caught early. Vision may be corrected with a change in eyewear prescription, avoiding the need for surgery until the condition worsens. Topical treatments in the form of eye drops can also help to slow the progression of the disease and clear, to some degree, the clouding lens. Ultimately, surgery may be necessary to remove the cataracts. During surgery, the clouded lens is removed from the patient's eye and replaced with an artificial one. With over 1.5 million surgeries performed every year, cataract removal surgery is one of the most frequently performed in the USA, and the vast majority of patients have noticeable improvements in their vision afterwards.

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