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Don’t Let Cataracts Creep Up On You

Don’t Let Cataracts Creep Up On You
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By Steve Nubie

The early symptoms of cataracts are often indiscernible and easy to ignore. 

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people 50 and over, and the primary cause of blindness worldwide. According to the Prevent Blindness America organization, cataracts will affect more than 22 million Americans age 50 and older this year. In fact, it’s estimated that by the year 2020 cataracts will affect more than 30 million Americans. By age 80 half of all people will either have cataracts or will have already had cataract surgery. The point is, cataracts are a common condition that can have devastating consequences.

Cataract Symptoms

What’s unfortunate about cataracts as a condition is that the early symptoms are either difficult to notice or are too easily ignored as a sign of fatigue, general eye-strain or other reasons. Here are the seven key symptoms to watch for:

  1. Sensitivity to light and glare
  2. Clouded, blurred or dim vision
  3. Fading or yellowing/browning of colors
  4. Increasing difficulty with vision at night
  5. Seeing “halos” around lights
  6. Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  7. Double vision in a single eye

It’s unlikely that all of these symptoms will occur simultaneously, What’s important to keep in mind is that any one of them is a good reason to see your eye doctor. Cataracts are a condition that don’t improve and slowly grow worse. They often occur in only one eye and are not a contagious condition that can spread to the other eye. However, over time the eye will continue to grow cloudy and at a certain point the condition is inoperable.

The Science Behind Cataracts

The actual dynamic that causes a cataract is based on the two elements that make up the lens in our eyes: protein and water. With time, the protein can begin to clump causing the lens to become cloudy. This condition is negligible at first and some people actually experience an increase in visual acuity with close objects.   This type of cataract is called a nuclear cataract and the short-term improvement is often referred to as second-sight. Unfortunately the improvement is short-lived.

Types of Cataracts

In addition to Nuclear cataracts there are three other types as well:

  1. The subcapsular cataract which occurs towards the back of the lens. Many people with diabetes and those taking high doses of steroids such as cortisone have a greater risk of developing this type of subcapsular cataract.
  2. The second type is the cortical cataract. It’s is characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that begin at the periphery of the lens and work towards the center in a spoke-like shape. This type of cataract occurs in the lens cortex. This is the part of the lens surrounding the central nucleus.
  3. The congenital cataract. As the name implies, this is a condition that you are either born with, or are predisposed to genetically.
  4. And then there’s the nuclear cataract. It forms deep in the nucleus of the lens and is typically associated with aging.

What all forms of cataracts have in common is a gradual clouding of the lens that travels across the eye resulting in blindness. The surgical procedure that corrects the condition typically involves the insertion of a clear plastic lens to replace the clouded lens of the affected eye. It’s the most frequently performed surgery in the United States with more that 3 million Americans having the surgery. The procedure to correct a cataract is actually quite simple and has a success rate averaging 9 out of 10 patients with complete recoveries.

Causes of Cataracts

However, surgery is not an automatic option although in the long term it’s the only effective treatment. It depends on the severity of the condition and the ability to moderate some factors that cause cataracts. They include:

  • Ultraviolet radiationfrom sunlight and other sources like tanning beds
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications
  • Statin medicines used to reduce cholesterol
  • Previous eye injury or inflammation
  • Previous eye surgery
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Significant alcohol consumption
  • Highmyopia (tunnel vision)
  • Family history

Not surprisingly, combinations of these factors increase the risk of cataracts and changes in behaviors and medications is one way that your eye doctor can help you moderate a cataract condition before pursuing a surgical option.

Diet and Cataracts

There is also growing evidence that diet can both moderate and prevent cataracts. These dietary considerations include higher levels of Vitamin E and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamin E is found naturally in sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach which not only provides Vitamin E, but is an excellent source of carotenoids (think beta-carotene) in addition to carrots, kale, other green, leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes.

In fact, many studies reveal that a diet high in a variety of vegetables and fruits lend themselves to improved eye-health across a variety of conditions including cataracts. There are also indications that anti-oxidants like those found in Vitamin C and Omega-3 Fatty Acids from fish like salmon and trout also support overall eye-health. Curiously, something as simple as wearing sunglasses that block UV light can help to reduce cataracts as much as dietary changes.

How you choose to treat any eye condition is really up to you and your eye doctor. If you think you may have a cataract it’s time for an appointment with your eye-care professional. Ultimately, the diagnosis and treatment including any surgical options are best left to your doctor’s recommendations and your approval. In the meantime, avoid the causes, recognize the symptoms and don’t forget to wear those sunglasses.








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