The month of June is dedicated to raising awareness for an eye condition that affects approximately 24 million Americans ages 40 and older: cataracts. Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness among older adults in the United States. Close to 70 percent of Americans have cataracts by the time they are 75 years old. Cataracts can also sometimes be found in young people or even newborn babies.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens, the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina, much like a camera’s lens. We can think of a cataract as a spot on the lens that causes the pictures our eyes take to turn out faded and blurry. Cataracts can grow over time, due to the clumping of protein on the lens, and if allowed to progress, can lead to blindness. In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, here are some steps that you can take to protect your eyes:
Wear a hat and sunglasses. Because long-term exposure to UVA and especially UVB radiation is known to damage the lens in the eye, it is recommended that you use hats and protective eyewear to minimize risk. You can also experience overexposure to UV rays via tanning beds. Although radiation from the sun is present year-round, it’s particularly important to cover up in the summer months, when the days are longer and you are likely spending more time outdoors.
Avoid tobacco. Research shows that pack-a-day smokers are at twice the risk for developing cataracts. If you smoke, it is not too late to improve your overall health by quitting.
Practice good nutrition. While studies on the impact of nutrition on cataract development remain inconclusive, some suggest that the pigments contained in dark, leafy green vegetables help to promote eye health. In any case, these foods, as well as foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E, are good for you and taste good, too.
If you have a cataract, symptoms usually include some or all of the following situations. Lights may cause a glare and seem too dim or too bright. Reading in dim light may be difficult, especially at night. It may be hard to drive at night or in bright sunlight. You may see halos around lights, such as car headlights, that make it hard to focus clearly. Colors may not seem as bright as they used to be. You may have to change your eyeglass prescription often. If you are diagnosed with cataracts, they can only be cured by having them surgically removed and a lens implant placed in your eye.
The National Eye Institute recommends that you have a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years, whether or not you have cataracts or other visual disturbance symptoms. To schedule an appointment or learn more about our services, please call 815-229-9820