Did you know…
- More than half of all Americans will develop cataracts by age 80.
- Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States, with more than 1.5 million procedures performed each year.
In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, let’s look at some of the fictions and facts surrounding this common condition.
Fiction: Cataracts are caused when a film grows on the eye’s surface, causing double or blurred images.
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Fact: A cataract does not form on the eye, but rather within it. A cataract is a clouding or opacity of the eye’s lens, the part of the eye responsible for focusing light and producing clear sharp images.
Fiction: “Overusing” your eyes will cause cataracts.
Fact: Cataracts are not made worse by close work such as reading, sewing, watching movies, or looking at television.
Fiction: You can “catch” a cataract from someone who has one.
Fact: Cataracts are not contagious.
Fiction: Cataracts are caused solely by old age.
Fact: Although most common in people over 60, cataracts can occur at any age. When cataracts occur in younger patients, they are usually caused by a chronic medical condition, eye trauma, or certain prescription drugs. Fetal exposure to infection, radiation, steroids, alcohol, and other substances of abuse during pregnancy are risk factors for congenital cataracts.
For adults, risk factors may include smoking, steroid use, and deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals. Prolonged exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet B (UVB), is a definite risk factor for cataracts. Medical conditions such as diabetes, myotonic dystrophy, or Wilson’s disease increase the risk for cataracts, regardless of age. Women and African-Americans are at increased risk.
Fiction: Cataracts are painful and always lead to blindness.
Fact: Cataracts form slowly and cause no pain. For most people, cataracts are a natural result of aging. Though they may lead to blindness when left untreated, “new techniques developed over the past decade have made cataract surgery one of the most successful procedures available in terms of restoring quality of life to patients,” according to Dr. Steven Unterman of Mid-America Eye Center.
Fiction: A cataract has to be “ripe” before it is removed.
Fact: Cataracts can take from a few months to several years to develop. Sometimes the cataract stops developing in its early stages, and vision is only slightly decreased. But if it continues to develop, vision is impaired, and treatment is necessary.
The best time to have a cataract removed is when it starts to interfere with your quality of life. Symptoms of cataracts include blurred, cloudy, filmy, or fuzzy vision; distorted images or double vision in either eye; a fading or yellowing of colors; sensitivity to light and glare, especially while driving at night; and frequent changes in your eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions.
You and your ophthalmologist should determine together when cataract surgery is right for you.
Fiction: Cataracts are removed using lasers.
Fact: The diseased tissue is replaced with an artificial device known as an intraocular lens implant. Cataract surgery is most often done as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. The patient generally goes home the same day, and because the incision is so small, many patients don’t even need stitches.
However, months or years after the cataract is removed, a thin membrane may develop behind the implant that needs to be opened with a laser. The procedure is quite common and may be one reason why some patients mistakenly believe that cataracts are removed with a laser.
Fiction: Cataracts can “grow back” after surgery.
Fact: This is the best news… Cataracts do not grow back, and most patients experience clearer vision right after surgery.