Prevent Blindness America named June Cataract Awareness Month to educate the public about cataracts. 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 eye’s lens and results in decreased vision and, if left untreated, blindness. Clouding generally occurs for various reasons, including aging, injury, genetic disorders, diseases like diabetes, and long-term use of medications and drugs. And while no definitive way to prevent cataracts exists, doctors believe a combination of efforts can slow their progression and reduce the risk of their development.
10 Ways to Lower the Risk of Cataracts
- Exercise. Exercise has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects, 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 specific 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 can impact eye health. A healthy diet and thus healthy eyes involve minimizing that which decreases overall health, including drinking too much alcohol regularly.
- Manage disease. Cataracts sometimes develop due to another condition, 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 time, can cause secondary cataracts.
- Don’t use steroids. While steroids are sometimes needed in treating some diseases, recreational steroids result 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. In addition, a high BMI is associated with diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, affecting eye health.
- Consider supplements. Although a somewhat controversial topic, some research indicates that certain supplements effectively prevent and treat cataracts. However, they should be taken under the guidance of a healthcare 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. However, getting an eye exam every couple of years is recommended for general eye health and especially for those with a higher risk for eye disease.
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 debilitating. Instead, cataract awareness and adhering to the above tactics provide the best approach for preventing eye diseases like cataracts and promoting a lifetime of healthy eyes.
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