By Santiago Villazon
A cataract is the clouding of the crystalline lens in one’s eye. It can occur in one or both eyes. Symptoms include blurring of the vision, increasing glare/halos while driving at night, changes in color perception and increasing difficulty reading (even with glasses).
Often they develop slowly over years — and at other times they can abruptly impact a patient’s functioning. In the United States, approximately 50 percent of people aged 65 or more have some degree of clouding of the natural lens. Each year in the United States, over 3 million cataract surgeries are performed to help correct the visual loss from cataracts.
What are the risk factors for developing cataracts?
•Age is the number one risk factor (though cataracts can develop at any age). The average age of a cataract surgery patient is around 70.
•Certain medical conditions such as diabetes also increase the risk of developing a cataract.
•Genetics (having a close relative who develops a cataract at a younger age) is also a risk factor.
•The environment can also accelerate cataract development, such as ultraviolet exposure from the sun. Wearing sunglasses (with UV protection) and a hat can potentially help block the harmful ultraviolet rays.
•Poor nutrition is also a risk factor. A diet rich in antioxidants with plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as lower carbohydrates can potentially slow cataract progression.
•Certain medications, such as steroids, estrogen and certain antidepressants can increase the risk of cataract formation.
•Smoking has clearly been shown to increase the risk of cataract development as well as other eye diseases such as age related macular degeneration. (Another reason to quit.)
Before discontinuing any medication or undergoing any change in diet or exercise, be sure to consult with your primary care doctor.
A complete eye exam is recommended every one to two years to be sure your eye is screened for ocular conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration that can lead to visual loss and functioning.
Santiago Villazon, M.D. is a cataract surgeon with Eye Care and Laser Surgery of Newton-Wellesley. He can be reached at 617-796-EYES (3937), 2000 Washington Street, Suite 548-White, Newton. Learn more at eyecareandlasersurgery.com. Articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.