The incidence of cataracts in the U.S. has risen 19 percent since 2000, impacting nearly 25 million Americans age 40 and older.[i] In fact, more than half of all Americans will develop cataracts by age 80, according to Prevent Blindness America’s Vision Problems in the U.S. report. In response, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart program is educating the public about cataract risk factors, detection and treatment options during Cataract Awareness Month.
Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which can make it more difficult to focus light onto the eye’s retina – the light-sensitive tissue that sends images to the brain. Cataracts, a natural part of aging, are the most common cause of vision loss in the U.S. They typically develop slowly, so symptoms may not be immediately apparent. Over time, cataracts can cause vision to become blurry, cloudy, dull, or dim, and can interfere with daily activities.
The good news is that cataracts are almost always treatable with cataract surgery. During cataract surgery, an ophthalmologist – an eye medical doctor with the training and certification to provide the full range of eye care and surgery – removes the eye’s cloudy natural lens and replaces it with a clear artificial lens implant called an intraocular lens (IOL). Cataract surgery is often performed as an outpatient procedure and does not require an overnight hospital stay. Cataract surgery is one of the safest types of surgery, and 90 percent of patients who have cataract surgery enjoy better vision afterward.[ii]
“If you notice vision changes, cataracts could be to blame and you might need more than a new pair of glasses,” said David F. Chang, M.D., a clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “If you do have a cataract, you should be reassured that it is a normal aging change and not an eye disease. Cataract surgery usually carries an excellent prognosis, and you should talk to your ophthalmologist about whether surgery should be done to restore your eyesight.”
As the aging population grows, it is increasingly important for seniors and their caregivers to understand cataract risks, symptoms, prevention, and treatment options. The American Academy of ophthalmology recommends the following tips to maintain healthy vision:
Get a baseline exam by age 40. All adults should get a baseline eye exam by age 40 when early signs of eye disease and vision changes may start to occur. During this visit, your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) will advise you on how often to have follow-up exams.
After age 65, schedule regular eye exams. Anyone age 65 and older should visit an ophthalmologist regularly to detect eye diseases and conditions like cataract early, and to monitor any vision loss. Seniors age 65 and older may qualify for an eye exam and up to 1 year of care at no out of pocket cost through EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Know your risk factors for cataract. Diabetes, smoking, extensive UV exposure, serious eye injuries, steroid use, and a family history of cataract can increase your risk for developing a cataract.
Reduce your risks to prevent or delay the onset of cataracts. Use sunglasses and hats to protect your eyes from UV damage. Don’t smoke. If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar carefully through diet, exercise and medications if needed.
Talk to your ophthalmologist about your treatment options. Vision loss from cataracts can interfere with daily activities. Talk to your ophthalmologist about whether cataract surgery is right for you. When preparing for surgery, give your doctor your complete medical and eye health history, including a list of medications that you have taken. Some medications can cause the iris to move out of its normal position and may require your ophthalmologist to adjust his or her surgical technique.