About 24 million U.S. adults have at least one cataract, which is a rate expected to double within the next three decades, according to the National Eye Institute. The risk for cataract increases significantly as we get older, affecting about half of those aged 75 years and up to 70 percent of those who are age 80 and older.
What Causes Cataracts?
The signature appearance of cataracts is a white, cloudy appearance in the center of the eye. Cataracts occur when the lens, which is located behind the pupil, becomes clouded by clumps of naturally-occurring proteins. As these clumps increase, they block more and more of the light entering the eye, preventing images from forming on the back part of the eye (the retina). Some cataracts can also form as a result of injury to the eye or as a result of a prior eye surgery, and they can also be present at birth.
In addition to age, surgery, and trauma, other risk factors for cataract formation include:
- high blood pressure
- prolonged unfiltered exposure to sunlight
- excessive alcohol consumption
- family history of cataracts
- prolonged exposure to radiation
- long-term use of steroid medications
- history of eye inflammation
How are Cataracts Diagnosed?
Cataracts can be diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam. Only your eye doctor is able to identify the presence, cause, and best course of treatment for cataracts, so it’s important to have regular eye exams. During the exam, the ophthalmologist gives a “traditional” eye chart test or other test to measure how well you see at different distances. You will also have your pupils dilated, using special eye drops that enable the doctor to see inside your eye, all the way to the retina and optic nerve head at the back of your eye. A special light called a slit lamp will also be used to help identify tiny imperfections in the lens that could be an early indicator of cataract formation.
What are the Treatment Options?
Some people with very mild cataracts can improve their vision with a magnifying lens and brighter lighting, as well as ensuring their eyeglass or contact lens prescription is kept up to date. Wearing sunglasses while outdoors can decrease glare, and night driving may also need to be limited. When these more conservative approaches aren’t enough, surgery may be needed to remove the lenses and replace them with artificial lenses called IOLs (or intraocular lenses), which are designed to work just like you natural eye lens. Modern surgical options include laser cataract surgery and lens implant options that minimize or even eliminate the need for glasses.
Can I prevent cataracts?
No studies have identified foolproof methods of preventing cataracts, but eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and wearing sunglasses when outdoors in sunlight are all recommended to improve the overall health of your eyes and protect them from damage. Having routine eye exams, especially as you get older, is the best way to spot cataracts in their earliest stages.
If you’ve been experiencing any issues with your vision or if you have any risk factors for cataracts, you should be evaluated right away. At Florida Eye Specialists, we’re the area leaders in eye health, providing patients in the Jacksonville area with easy, convenient access to the most advanced diagnostic and treatment options. Our mission is to provide Excellence in Eye Care and to help you enjoy the best vision possible.
To schedule an appointment, call us today at (904) 289-2335.