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Cataracts: The Leading Cause of Blindness

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts (clouds that develop between the pupil and the iris) are among the top causes of blindness in the United States. In fact, cataracts are so common that 24.4 million cases were diagnosed in 2010 and the National Eye Institute estimates that by age 80, more than half of Americans will have had a cataract or cataract surgery.

The Mayo Clinic defines cataract as the clouding of the lens between the pupil and the iris resulting from protein build up. Normally this lens is clear, allowing light to pass through to the retina, but if a cataract is present, it reduces the amount of light able to reach the retina. This affects the sharpness of the image you see and blurs your vision.

Cataracts are more common in older people as they are typically related to aging, though young people can also develop them. Early detection is important because, if left untreated, a cataract can lead to blindness. Here’s everything you need to know about cataracts to protect your vision:

Risk Factors for Cataracts

Certain risk factors increase your risk of developing a cataract:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol Use
  • Prolonged, unprotected exposure to UV light
  • High blood sugar or diabetes
  • Long-term use of steroid medications
  • Past eye conditions or surgeries

Cataract Signs and Symptoms

Cataracts range in size and typically get larger over time, so the effects on vision can vary. A small cataract may not cause any vision changes and could go unnoticed. Those with a cataract often describe their vision as looking through dirty glass or sepia filter. Over time as the cataract grows, it has a higher chance of negatively affecting one’s vision. According to Mayo Clinic, a larger cataract may cause blurred vision and dulled colors as well as a glare or halo when looking at light. Other indications you might have a cataract include poor night vision, double vision or the need to frequently change your eyeglass prescription.

Prevention, Detection and Treatment

There are simple health habits that can help prevent cataracts, such as quitting smoking, wearing sunglasses, reducing alcohol use, eating a balanced diet and managing other health conditions, like diabetes. Routine eye exams can catch cataracts in the early stages before it’s too late. Doctors may conduct one or multiple tests, such as a visual acuity exam to assess your eyesight, a retinal examination with dilation or a slit-lamp examination that provides doctors a magnified view of your eye structure. The only truly effective treatment for a cataract is surgery to remove the protein buildup and restore clear vision. However, there are changes that can be made to help manage symptoms in the short term, such as new eyeglasses or contacts, brighter lighting and magnifying glasses.

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Photo Credit: Skitterphoto

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