Cataract, a clouding of the lens of the eye, is the leading cause of vision loss in people older than 55. More than half have some degree of cataract development, and more than half of people over age 80 either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
If you smoke, have diabetes, or have a family history of cataracts, you’re at increased risk for developing them yourself. In 2009 researchers identified several genetic mutations that are associated with age-related cataracts.
Other risk factors include:
- Extensive exposure to sunlight
- Serious eye injury or inflammation
- Prolonged use of steroids, especially combined use of oral and inhaled steroids
- Current use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). A 2010 study published in the journal “Ophthalmology” established this link for the first time. Researchers emphasize, however, that the benefits of treating depression (which can be life-threatening) still outweigh the risk of developing cataracts.
How to reduce the risk
The risk of developing cataracts can be reduced by wearing UV-rated sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors during daylight hours. A 2010 study published in “Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science” suggested that UV-absorbing hydrogel contact lenses may be especially effective in preventing sun damage.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to control your blood sugar with diet, exercise, and medication if needed. If you smoke, ask your doctor about how to quit.
Eating more green leafy vegetables, fruits, and other antioxidant-rich foods may also help prevent cataracts. A strong cup of coffee in the morning may also help preserve your vision, as caffeine has been shown to prevent cataract formation.
People 60 and older should also have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. Those with early signs of cataract development may find new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses or magnifying lenses helpful. But if these measures don’t improve your symptoms, the only effective treatment is surgery which removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial lens called an intra-ocular lens.
Like any surgery, cataract surgery carries a risk of infection. But it’s recognized as one of the safest and most effective types of surgery, with a success rate of about 90 percent.