Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness for those 55 years and older, according to Eye Care America, and more than half of those over 65 have some degree of cataract development.
Here’s a rundown of the seven facts you should know about this condition:
- Cataract extractions are the most common surgical procedure in the United States: more than two million are performed each year. The name comes from the Greek word kataraktēs, meaning “waterfall.” The Greeks and Romans thought cataracts were formed by evil liquids that flowed like a waterfall into the eye. A papyrus dating to 1,500 BCE describes what was probably a cataract under the phrase “the mounting of water in the eye.”
2. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which is normally clear. A healthy lens allows light to pass through to the back of the eye, so that the patient can see well-defined images. A cataract scatters the light as it passes through the lens, preventing a sharply defined image from reaching the retina. As a result, your vision becomes blurred, like looking through a fogged-up window. Some cataracts are congenital, but most are caused by aging.
- These changes in your vision may be signs of cataract:
- Having blurred or double vision, ghost images, or a “film” over the eyes
- Worsening night vision
- Difficulty seeing while reading or performing other close-up work under standard lighting conditions, or sensitivity to light and glare
- Frequent changes in vision prescriptions
There are several factors that we cannot control that may increase the risk of developing cataracts: age, family history, and ethnicity (African Americans have a higher risk for developing and becoming blind from cataracts). Some studies also suggest that women may be at a slightly higher risk than men.
Risk factors for cataracts that we can control include not smoking, reducing exposure to sunlight by wearing UVA/UVB protective sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats, controlling other diseases such as diabetes, and eating a healthy diet.
According to a Tufts University study, diet can have a significant effect on cataract development: “Those who consumed less than 1.5 servings of fruit or fruit juice per day or less than two servings of vegetables or vegetable juice were three and a half times more likely to have cataracts.” Cataracts were 5.6 times more prevalent among those with the lowest levels of carotenoid intake. Carotenoids are abundant in dark-green leafy vegetables, as well as orange and red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, peaches, squash, and, of course, carrots.
According to All About Vision, some experts advise that, even with a healthy diet, in order to fight cataracts it is prudent to consider adding eye vitamin supplements. In particular, research suggests that supplementation with N-acetyl and L-cysteine may play a role in preventing cataracts or slowing their progression.