Western Carolina Medical Society’s Physicians’ Voice: Cataract awareness month

From Western Carolina Medical Society:


Edward K. Isbey, III, M.D. 


June is Cataract Awareness Month. Most people have a relative, friend, or neighbor who has had to deal with a cataract.  20.5 million Americans age 40 or older are affected by cataracts.


When we focus on something, the light rays travel into our eye through the pupil and are focused through the lens behind the pupil onto the retina.  If the lens has become cloudy, a cataract has formed.  Most cataracts are the result of aging and are very common.  By the year 2020, it is expected that 70 million Americans will be age 56-74 and many of these people will develop cataracts.


Risk factors for cataracts include age, smoking, diabetes, family history of cataracts, or excessive exposure to sunlight.  If your vision has gradually become blurry or cloudy, a cataract may have developed in one or both of your eyes.    As the cataract progresses, it usually interferes with your daily activities, such as reading, watching TV, or driving, especially driving at night.  Symptoms you may notice include cloudy or dim vision, faded or yellowed colors, or the need for brighter light for reading or other activities.  The only way to diagnose a cataract is to have a dilated eye exam.  An ophthalmologist can perform a complete eye exam to determine if a cataract or other problem is the cause of your vision loss.


Is there a way to prevent cataracts?  Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract formation.  If you stop smoking you will reduce your risk of cataracts.  If you have diabetes, control of your diabetes can reduce cataract formation.  No nutritional or vitamin supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related cataracts.  Cataracts cannot be treated with drops or medications.  The only treatment for this condition is surgery when indicated.


When the cataract significantly affects a person’s daily activities, then surgery is indicated.  For example, Mrs. Jones became unable to sew.  A complete eye exam revealed she had a cataract in each eye.  After successful cataract surgery, she was able to resume sewing and even noted her home was not quite as clean as she thought it was!


During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens inside the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant.  Before cataract surgery, your eyes are measured to determine the strength for the intraocular lens implant (IOL) for your eye.  A discussion with your cataract surgeon will determine which type of IOL is best for you.  Most patients have an IOL with one focal point, which means the eye will see clearly at distance or near but not both.


Newer technology premium IOL options are available.  Toric lenses correct for astigmatism.  Astigmatism has to do with the difference in the curvature of the front of the eye.  Multifocal IOL implants have multiple points of focus. For many people, these IOL types reduce but may not eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses.


Cataract surgery is safe and one of the most common surgical procedures.  This is usually performed on an outpatient basis at a surgery center.  In the US, approximately 3 million Americans have cataract surgery each year.


If you are over 40 and have not had a dilated eye exam, see your eye doctor for a baseline exam.  The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a complete eye exam every year or two over the age of 65 to check for cataracts and other age-related eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.


About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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