Brighten Your World This Summer
Have you noticed that colors seem less vibrant lately? Or that your vision is getting more blurry? If so, you may be one of the nearly 22 million Americans who have cataracts.
Few conditions of aging erode an older person’s independence faster than losing their eyesight. As people age, they are far more likely to be affected by conditions that dramatically reduce – or completely eliminate – their ability to see. According to many estimates, two-thirds of those who are legally blind are seniors who lost vision as a result of age-related eye diseases.
June is Cataract Awareness Month
One of the most common age-related eye diseases is cataracts. June is Cataract Awareness Month, an excellent time to bring attention to this highly curable condition.
Cataracts occur when cells start dying and accumulating in the lens of the eye, which makes the world you see cloudy and dull. They are a natural result of aging and while they can’t be prevented, they are treatable. According the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts.
Age is the biggest risk factor for cataracts, but there are other risk factors, including:
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes
- Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- Family history of cataracts
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye surgery
To reduce your risk, it helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthful diet. Specifically, studies have shown that diets high in vitamins C and E, lutein and zeaxanthan (found in leafy greens like spinach and kale), and omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish like wild salmon and sardines, and also in flax seeds) may help prevent cataracts. Other ways to reduce your risk include keeping your weight within a normal range, avoiding getting too much sun, and not smoking or drinking alcohol in excess.
Treatment has improved
Some good news about cataracts comes from a Harvard University study, which found that, along with advances in cardiac care, the increased number of cataract surgeries is one of the most important factors behind today’s increased years of independence for seniors. “In the past, cataract surgery was very lengthy and technically difficult,” David Cutler, co-author of the study explained. “That same surgery today can be done in an outpatient setting so that complications and disability are significantly ameliorated.”
While the idea of any surgery can be scary, about 3 million Americans get cataract surgery every year, making it one of the most common surgeries performed. It is also highly effective, with about 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery reporting improved vision. Of course, there are risks, which you should discuss thoroughly with your doctor.
What to expect
During surgery, the lens of the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL). Generally, people have only one eye done at a time. In addition to getting rid of your cataracts, the IOL can correct your vision – either near, intermediate or far or even all of the above. Prices and insurance coverage varies depending on your choice, so be sure to discuss thoroughly with your surgeon. The procedure itself if relative painless and generally lasts about one hour. Many people stay awake for the entire procedure. After surgery, you may experience some discomfort, which should disappear within a few days. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help with this. Your doctor may also recommend using eye drops to reduce the risk of infection. Healing should be complete within eight weeks.
You don’t need to live with vision loss due to cataracts. If you think you have them or are at risk, see your ophthalmologist and make your life a little brighter.