Did you know that cataracts are also the leading cause of vision loss in
the United States, and the leading cause of preventable blindness in the
world? 24 million Americans over the age of 40 are affected by cataracts.
The good news is this common eye condition is also highly treatable.
What is a cataract?
“We have a lens behind the colored part of our eye, also known as
the iris. This lens acts as a window to let light in and project crisp
visual images on the retina. When that lens becomes cloudy, we call it
a cataract,” explains Dr. Adam Miller, an ophthalmologist with Cortland
Regional Medical Center.
There are three main types of cataracts:
Nuclear cataracts are the most common age-related cataract and are caused by the hardening
and yellowing of the lens over time.
Cortical cataracts begin as streaks or opaque wedges on the outside edge of the lens that
gradually meet in the middle, “like spokes on a wheel,” says
Posterior subcapsular cataracts occur on the back surface of the lens. “If you are diabetic or have
taken high doses of steroid medications in the past, you have a higher
risk of developing this type,” Dr. Miller says. Family history,
obesity, smoking, previous eye injury, and high blood pressure can also
contribute to your overall risk.
Diagnosis and treatment
Since most cataracts start small and grow slowly, getting an annual eye
exam is the best early detection system. Dr. Miller also recommends visiting
your doctor at the first sign of any noticeable changes in your vision.
“Some of the first symptoms you may experience include blurred or
hazy vision, increased glare or halos on headlights when driving at night,
and difficulty reading or seeing fine detail. As the clouding progresses,
you’ll notice more visual disturbance,” Dr. Miller says.
Stronger glasses, bifocals, and brighter lighting can help for a while,
but “once the cataract begins interfering with your daily activities
or you find that you’ve stopped doing some of your favorite things
like reading, sewing, or using a computer, it’s time to consider
surgery,” says Dr. Miller.
Cataract surgery is safe and effective treatment for most patients. The
procedure involves removing the cloudy lens, and replacing it with a clear,
plastic interocular implant. Vision improves almost immediately following
surgery, and after healing, patients are often less dependent on glasses.
“This is one of the most satisfying outcomes for me, because patients
often don’t realize how much their vision was impacted until it
is corrected. One of the best things I hear after surgery is when grandparents
tell me they can read to their grandkids again, and people who could no
longer drive safely are able to regain their independence,” says
Dr. Miller proudly.
Eight Tips for Healthy Eyes
You can’t do anything about your age or your family history, but
here are some ways you can help keep your eyes healthy and lower the chances
of developing cataracts in the future.
- Make an annual eye exam a priority.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, and vitamins C and E.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption.
- Wear eye protection when doing yard work or playing sports.
- Wear sunglasses to limit your exposure to UV light.
- Keep your diabetes under control.
- Avoid using corticosteroid medications.
In honor of Men’s Health Month and Cataract Awareness Month,
Dr. Miller will be offering free cataract screenings throughout June. To schedule
an appointment call