Cataracts Are Common
Cataracts are one of the leading causes of visual impairment in the United States, and as the aging population grows, the incidence of cataracts is expected to rise as well. During Cataract Awareness Month this August, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises seniors and their caregivers to learn the important facts about risk factors, symptoms and treatment options for cataracts.
Early Testing and Treatment for Cataracts Recommended
Delaying diagnosis and treatment of age-related cataracts can increase the risk of permanent blindness and can lead to physical danger such as injuries from falls or running into unseen objects, as well as psychological harm like depression and social isolation.
To ensure seniors know the facts about cataracts, the Academy offers the following answers to common questions about the disease:
- What are cataracts? Cataracts are caused by protein deposits creating cloudy areas in the lens that prevent light from passing clearly through the eye. Aging is the most common cause of cataracts, but they can also result from traumatic eye injury, taking certain medicines or can be congenital in children.
- What are the symptoms? Symptoms include dull, blurry vision, colors appearing less vibrant, and seeing halos around lights.
- Who is at risk for cataracts? Cataracts are a normal part of aging; seniors age 65 and older should be sure to have regular eye exams to monitor for the development of cataracts. People with diabetes, a family history of cataracts and those who smoke tobacco are at an increased risk of developing cataracts. Other risk factors include extensive exposure to ultra violet (UV) light, serious eye injury and obesity.
- How are cataracts diagnosed? A dilated eye exam from an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions will determine if cataracts are developing. The Academy recommends seniors age 65 and older should schedule eye exams every one to two years.
- How are cataracts treated? Cataracts are nearly always treatable with surgery, but it may not be necessary until performing daily activities becomes difficult. If daily life isn’t disturbed, a change in eyeglass prescription may be all that is necessary.
- When is surgery necessary? If completing everyday tasks is challenging, cataract surgery should be discussed with an ophthalmologist. Only individuals can determine when symptoms like glare, halos, blurriness, dimmed colors or other cataract-related problems make activities like driving and reading difficult or impossible.
“Seniors who find themselves giving up normal tasks like reading, exercising or driving due to cataract symptoms should know that they do no not need to suffer in silence,” said Rebecca Taylor, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Cataract surgery can help these individuals regain their sight and their independence. It is one of the most common and safest procedures performed in medicine, so seniors should not resist seeking help. Getting treatment can vastly improve your quality of life.”
Cataract as part of aging
The lens is made mostly of water and protein. As we age, the lens continues to grow layers on its surface and hardens. Protein in the lens may clump together and become cloudy in some areas, preventing light from passing clearly through the eye. This cloudiness of the lens is what we call a cataract.
If the clouding is mild or only involves a small part of the lens, your vision may be only slightly affected. If there is more clouding and it affects the entire lens, your vision will become severely limited and cataract surgery becomes necessary.
Less common types of cataracts, not related to normal aging, include the following:
Congenital or developmental cataracts
This type of cataract can occur in infants or children. They may be hereditary or they can be associated with some birth defects. Some occur without any obvious cause.
Non-age related cataracts from other disease or medication
These cataracts are caused by other eye diseases or previous eye surgery. Chronic disease, such as diabetes, or excessive use of steroid medications can spur development of this type of cataract.
These cataracts are related directly to an eye injury. Traumatic cataracts may appear immediately following injury, or they can develop several months or even years later.
Many seniors cope with cataracts – accepting vision loss as an inevitable part of the aging process rather than seeking medical treatment. Early detection and treatment from an ophthalmologist is essential in preserving vision and quality of life as we age. For people without regular access to eye care or for whom cost is a concern, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost to qualifying seniors age 65 and older through its corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists across the U.S. To learn more about EyeCare America or to find out if you or a loved one qualifies for the program, visit www.eyecareamerica.org.
For more information about cataracts and other eye health information, visit www.geteyesmart.org.