It is important as we age to protect our eyes from cataracts, the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S.
Observing Cataract Awareness Month in June promotes information about this common eye condition that affects more than 24 million Americans.
A cataract develops when proteins in the eye clump together and cloud the lens.
Symptoms of cataracts may not be visible at first, but eventually, you may notice your vision become cloudy or blurry. You may also have difficulty seeing at night, especially while driving. You may see halos around lights, faded or yellow colors or even experience double vision.
When cataracts start affecting your lifestyle, they are treatable with a simple surgical procedure, which has a 98 percent success rate.
Eye conditions share risk factors
Cataracts and glaucoma may occur at the same time in a patient’s eyes.
Like cataracts, glaucoma can lead to blindness. Glaucoma causes vision loss through damage to the optic nerve. About three million people in the U.S. have this disease.
According to an article in Medical News Today, having either cataracts or glaucoma “does not directly lead to the development of the other, [but] having one condition can increase the risk of developing the other.”
Learning facts about both conditions and seeking treatment early may prevent permanent vision loss.
According to the National Eye Institute, cataracts can increase the risk of elevated eye pressure, which may lead to glaucoma.
Similarly, some treatments for glaucoma may worsen cataracts and speed up their formation, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Both conditions typically occur in adults over age 55 and often in people with a family history. Some medications, past eye injuries or certain medical conditions can increase the risk of developing both.
Lifestyle factors may increase your risk of cataracts. Factors include excessive exposure to sunlight, smoking tobacco, obesity, high blood pressure, prolonged use of corticosteroid medications and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Risk factors for glaucoma include African-American heritage, history of steroid use (either in eyedrops or systemically), being nearsighted (myopic), being farsighted (hyperopic) and history of elevated intraocular pressure.
Treatments vary for eye conditions
While cataracts and glaucoma both negatively affect one’s vision, the symptoms and treatments vary for each.
Living a healthy lifestyle goes a long way toward cataract prevention. To slow the development, make healthy lifestyle choices:
- Wear sunglasses and a hat when outdoors.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Take antioxidant supplements like vitamins A, C and E.
- Quit smoking.
- Manage diabetes and heart disease.
Ultimately, surgery is the only treatment option to medically remove a cataract and treat the effect on your eyesight.
There is no cure for glaucoma, so early detection is critical. In its early stages, glaucoma usually has no symptoms. Increased eye pressure creates stress on the optic nerve, and if it is damaged, vision loss occurs. Once diagnosed, treatment options include medications, laser treatment and surgery.
New developments in Micro-Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS) allow patients to have glaucoma and cataract surgery during one procedure. The surgery is safe and effective in treating primary open-angle glaucoma and a cataract.
Don’t delay your diagnosis
Preventive measures or treatment may lessen or cure about 75 percent of disease-related eyesight loss.
Doctors recommend regular eye exams beginning at age 40 or earlier if you have eye disease risk factors, including family history, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 39 million Americans will have cataracts by 2032.
Glaucoma is expected to affect more than four million Americans by 2030, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
If you are at risk for these eye conditions, don’t delay your diagnosis. Schedule a comprehensive exam offered by an ophthalmologist at your eye center.