Wearing sunglasses, stopping smoking and other ways to prevent cataracts
Cataracts are a very common eye problem that most people will develop over time. According to the National Eye Institute, over half of all Americans have developed a cataract by age 80.
Cataracts can develop in anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, and they can develop in people of any age, though they’re most common in people 40 and older. In fact, they’re a leading cause of blindness worldwide.
While some risk factors for cataract can’t be controlled — you can’t stop getting older, unfortunately, and you can’t prevent whether it runs in your family — there are some simple things you can do to lower your risk and potentially slow or delay the development of cataracts later in life.
What are cataracts?
We’re born with a clear lens in the eye that’s responsible for focusing light onto the retina in the back of the eye. With natural aging processes, this clear lens becomes cloudy, at which point we refer to it as a cataract.
The cataract itself isn’t harmful to the eye, but as it becomes progressively cloudier, it begins to affect vision.
When people have a cataract, they might experience:
- Decreased or blurry vision
- Glare or haloes around bright lights (such as headlights while driving)
- Decreased contrast (or colors that appear faded or yellow)
- Double vision
- Frequent changes in their eyeglasses prescription
Cataract risk factors
Age is the most common risk factor for cataract development. After age 40, the risk for developing a cataract begins to increase over time.
Other risk factors include a family history of cataract, history of eye injury or trauma, or history of previous eye surgery. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, and the use of some medications, such as corticosteroids, also can increase your risk.
How to prevent cataracts
Ultraviolet (UV) light or exposure, such as prolonged sun exposure without using sunglasses, as well as smoking can increase your risk of developing a cataract.
To reduce your risk of cataracts or slow their progression, you should:
- Wear sunglasses to minimize UV damage. Look for sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV light (both UV-A and UV-B rays). Wearing a hat or other sun protection can also minimize exposure to UV rays.
- Avoid or quit smoking, which is associated with significantly higher risk of cataracts
- Incorporate antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin and selenium into your diet. These can be found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, among other healthy foods.
- Wear eye protection during high-risk activities, such as while playing sports, performing home repairs and yard work and during certain work activities.
- Work with your primary care provider to manage medical conditions such as diabetes and keep your blood sugar under control.
If your cataracts are relatively mild, you may be able to improve your vision with updated glasses or improved lighting conditions. However, when cataracts progress further and begin to significantly affect your vision, an ophthalmologist will discuss with you the option of cataract surgery. There are currently no other FDA-approved treatment options to remove cataracts.
Fortunately, cataract surgery is among the most common surgical procedures performed in the United States and results in improved vision in the vast majority of patients. Complications after cataract surgery are uncommon.
During cataract surgery, your natural lens, which has developed into a cataract, is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant.
There are a variety of artificial lens implant options to optimize your vision. Your ophthalmologist can discuss the best options for you, customized to your specific needs.
If you’re worried about your vision or whether you’re developing a cataract, see your ophthalmologist to get on the path to better sight.
Mona Adeli is a board certified ophthalmologist at the Havener Eye Institute at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor of ophthalmology in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at The Ohio State