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Cataracts: What You Need to Know!

June is Cataract Awareness Month!  Read on to learn all about what cataracts are and how they are treated.


What is a cataract?

A cataract is the clouding or yellowing of the eye’s natural lens, due to exposure to sunlight over the course of time.  This is the result of normal aging.  When you are looking at an object, light rays travel into the eye thorugh the pupil and are focused through the lens onto the retina (a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye).  In order for the light to properly focus on the retina and create an image, the lens needs to be clear.  When a cataract is present, it causes the image to be blurred or hazy, reduces hte intensity of colors, increases sensitivity to glare from lights (particularly when driving at night), and can lead to change in the eye’s refractive error.


Causes of Cataracts

Most cataracts are caused by age-related changes in the lens, but other factors may contribute to their development.  These factors may include diabetes, medications such as corticosteroids and phenothiazines, unprotected exposure to UV radiation, smoking, alcohol use, and nutritional deficiency.  On rare occasions, cataracts can be present at birth.  In these cases, they may be inherited or they may develop due to infection in the mother during pregnancy.  A cataract may also develop following in injury to the eye.


How are Cataracts Treated?

Cataracts are one of the most common causes of vision loss, especially as we age, and their treatment is based on the level of visual impairment they cause.  If the affect of the cataract is minimal, then no treatment may be needed.  Patients may be advised to monitor the cataract for any increase in symptoms and schedule regular eye exams with their eye doctor.  In some cases, a change in the eyeglass prescription may provide a temporary improvement in visual acuity.  Others find that increasing the amount of light used for reading and adding anti-glare coatings on lenses is enough to alleviate these minor symptoms.

When the cataract progresses to the point where it affects a person’s lifestyle and his/her ability to perform everyday tasks, surgery is often required.  Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy natural lens of hte eye and replacing it with a clear artificial lens implant called an intraocular lens (IOL).  Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery performed, with 90% of patients reporting better vision following the surgery. (


Can Cataracts be Prevented?

While there are no clinically proven approaches to preventing cataracts, research shows that reducing exposure to sunlight with UV blocking lenses, decreasing or discontinuing smoking/alcohol use, and increasing antioxidant vitamin intake through consumption of leafy green vegetables are effective strategies that are relatively simple to follow.  Also, nutrients such as lutein/zeaxanthin, Vitamins C & E, and zinc have been linked to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including cataracts.


If you have any questions about cataracts and would like to be evaluated, give us a call at 406-586-2173.  We are happy to help.