Cataracts are incredibly common, and as you age, you’re more likely to get one. Almost 10% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 59 have a cataract; by age 75, almost half the population suffers from it. The number of cataract cases in the U.S. has risen by 20% from 2000 to 2010, and is expected to continue to grow.
When left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness globally. Luckily, vision loss caused by a cataract can be restored through cataract surgery, which is very safe, commonly performed, and highly successful.
How can you tell if you have cataracts? They aren’t painful, and your eyes won’t get red or watery. Instead, cataract symptoms involve changes to your vision. To understand these changes, you have to know how your vision works.
How Vision Works
Your eye is like a camera. Light enters the eye through the cornea, and moves past the pupil and through the lens, which bends the rays and focuses them on your retina, located at the back of the eye. The retina processes the image and sends it to the brain. When you have cataracts, the lens that bends the light rays and sends images to your retina becomes cloudy. That’s why the primary symptoms of cataracts involve changes to your vision. Here are some common signs and symptoms of cataracts:
- Cloudy, blurry, or foggy vision
- Colors that appear faded or less vivid
- Glare – some lights may seem too bright, or you may see a halo around lightbulbs or headlights
- Double vision, also called diplopia
- Trouble seeing or frequent changes in your eyeglasses prescriptions
- As cataracts progress, you may be able to see the cataract, as the pupil appears to be covered with a white film
Causes & Risk Factors
There are many causes for cataracts, but the most common is simply age. The lens in your eye is made of water and protein. As we get older, the protein can clump together and cloud a small section of the lens, forming a cataract. Over time, the cataract can get larger, making it more and more difficult to see clearly.
There are some risk factors that may make you more susceptible to cataracts. Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages per day is linked to a significant increase in the likelihood of undergoing cataract surgery. Heavy smokers are up to three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop a cataract. People with certain diseases, like diabetes, are also more prone to cataracts, as are African Americans.
Decreasing the Chances of Cataracts
So what can you do to decrease your chances of developing a cataract? Quit smoking, and make sure you’re drinking in moderation, to start with. Whenever you’re outdoors, you should always wear sunglasses with ultraviolet protection, as UV rays contribute to the formation of cataracts. If you can’t or won’t wear sunglasses, you should at least wear a wide-brimmed hat!
Certain supplements and antioxidants can also decrease or delay the progression of cataracts. The Nutrition and Vision Project at Tufts University found that higher levels of vitamins C and E, folate, and lutein are associated with lower risk for cataracts. A daily multivitamin can help you increase your levels of these vitamins and decrease your risk for eye disease. Several studies have shown the benefits of these vitamins on vision health; vitamin E supplementation has specifically been linked to a decrease in lens opacity.
Cataracts aren’t inevitable, but with over twenty million Americans affected by this disease, you should be aware of it. What can you do? See your eye doctor for regular checkups, wear sunglasses when you’re outside, and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you get frequent headaches due to vision changes or start noticing any of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with your doctor to have your eyes checked. HealthMarkets is happy to help you find a vision plan at no cost to you. Get a free quote today!