Even though cataract surgery holds over a 95% success rate for restoring vision, cataracts still exist as the leading cause of blindness worldwide. More than 24 million Americans over age 40 suffer from the disease, and more than half of the population will have cataracts by age 80.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye and results in decreased vision and, if left untreated, blindness. The clouding generally occurs for a variety, and likely a combination, of reasons including aging, injury, genetic disorders, diseases like diabetes and long-term use of medications and drugs.
To educate the public about cataracts, Prevent Blindness America named June as Cataract Awareness Month. And while no definitive way to prevent cataracts exists, doctors believe a combination of efforts can slow their progression as well as reduce the risk of their development. Those include:
- Exercise. Exercise has an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effect, both of which are thought to be involved in the development of cataracts.
- Eat a healthy diet. Some studies show that a diet rich in antioxidants and certain vitamins is associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and can slow their progression.
- Wear sunglasses regularly. Experts agree that long-term exposure to UV rays accelerates the progression of cataracts and other eye diseases. As a result, wearing sunglasses that protect against at least 99% of UV rays is essential for eye health.
- Don”™t smoke. Studies show that a person’s chances of developing cataracts doubles if they smoke, and the risk increases with frequency.
- Minimize alcohol use. Over-consumption of alcohol affects many bodily systems, which in turn can impact eye health. Part of a healthy diet “” and thus healthy eyes “” involves minimizing that which decreases overall health, including drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis.
- Manage disease. Cataracts sometimes develop as the result of another disease such as diabetes, a genetic illness such as Down Syndrome, or a congenital infection such as herpes. In addition, many medications in disease treatment, especially when taken over a long period of time, can cause secondary cataracts.
- Don”™t use steroids. While steroids are sometimes needed in the treatment of some diseases, the use of recreational steroids results in far more long-term side-effects, including eye diseases such as cataracts, that far outweigh any short-term benefit.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Research indicates a significant association between being overweight and increased cataract risk. A high BMI is associated with diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can affect eye health.
- Consider supplements. Although a somewhat controversial topic, some research indicates that certain supplements are effective at preventing and treating cataracts. However, they should be taken under the guidance of a health-care provider.
- Get regular eye exams. Catching cataracts during their early stages is the best way to avoid needing cataract surgery since certain lifestyle adjustments “” such as many of those listed above “” can help slow their growth and lessen symptoms. For general eye health “” and especially for those with a higher risk for eye disease “” getting an eye exam every couple of years is recommended.
Once cataracts have progressed to the point of interfering with everyday activities, surgery becomes necessary. But even though cataracts are a common eye problem, they don’t have to be a debilitating one. Adhering to the above tactics provides the best approach for preventing eye diseases like cataracts and for promoting a lifetime of healthy eyes.