Technological advances in recent years have made cataract surgery faster, safer, more comfortable and ultimately more effective.
More than 20 million Americans older than 40 have cataracts and nearly three million people have cataract surgery in the United States annually. More than 95 percent of cataract surgeries are performed without complications and result in a significant improvement in vision, especially when patients advise their ophthalmologist of any medications they are taking that might cause problems during surgery. "Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world. However, in the vast majority of cases, vision loss is reversible," said academy spokesperson Edward J. Holland, MD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati and director of cornea at the Cincinnati Eye Institute. "New cataract surgery techniques have made cataract surgery one of the most successful procedures available in restoring patients' quality of life."
What Is a Cataract?
A cataract is a gradual clouding of the clear lens in the eye, the part that focuses light and produces clear images. Inside of the eye, the lens is contained in a sealed bag or capsule. As old cells die they become trapped within the capsule. As time passes, more cells die and accumulate causing the lens to cloud, smearing vision and making things appear blurred and fuzzy, like peering through a fogged or frosted window. Cataracts form slowly and painlessly, but can eventually lead to blindness in the most acute cases. They are not a film over the eye or cancer; they are not caused by using your eyes too much; and they are not spread from one eye to the other.
Those with a cataract may have:
- blurry vision, with no pain
- glare, or sensitivity to light
- many eyeglass prescription changes
- double vision in one eye
- the need to read with brighter light
- poor night vision
- dull or yellowed eye color
Nearly half of all people will have a cataract by the time they are 65 years old. In addition to aging, other causes of cataracts include
- family history of cataracts
- medical problems, such as diabetes or alcoholism
- eye injuries
- medications, such as steroids
- high salt intake
- long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight
- complications from previous eye surgery
Cataracts Can be Prevented
"The most important thing you can do is to protect your eyes from ultraviolet light," said Dr. Holland. "When you are outside in daylight, wear wraparound sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB and wear a wide-brimmed hat." Parents should also make sure their children, including infants, are protected from ultraviolet light, as exposure occurs during a lifetime. In addition, there is some evidence that eating a diet rich in antioxidants -- foods such as spinach, broccoli, almonds and eggs -- and taking vitamin E and C supplements may help reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Finally, there is good news for women taking estrogen as part of hormone replacement therapy. There is evidence that estrogen greatly decreases the risk of developing cataracts.