Preventative Strategies for Cataracts Everyone Should Know8 months ago | Eye Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Imagine the difficulty of having to put contacts lenses in a baby’s eyes! Well, the parents of baby Micah Weathers had no choice but to be up for the challenge. When baby Micah was born, his mother noticed something in his eyes that “wasn’t quite right.” She saw small specs on his pupils. A medical professional then diagnosed Micah with cataracts in both eyes.
What are cataracts?
To put it very simply, the American Optometric Association defines a cataract as a cloudy or opaque area in the normally clear lens of the eye. As you can probably imagine, this cloudiness may cause impaired vision (especially if not treated).
Baby Micah reportedly had to undergo several surgeries before he even reached the age of two, in order to treat his cataracts. Post surgery, contact lenses have helped Micah have better vision.
“While they have tried glasses for Micah, Mildred Weathers and Roach [his parents] say soft contacts have turned out to be the best solutions to helping him have clear vision,” according to one report discussing Micah’s story.
“It is not easy, getting contacts in a baby’s eye every three to five days, but they will never forget the moment his first pair were put on.” His vision appeared to improve dramatically.
Pediatric cataracts are relatively rare. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmolgy and Strabismus (AAPOS), approximately three out of 10,000 children have a cataract. Pediatric cataracts may occur due to abnormal lens development during pregnancy. In some cases, cataracts may develop after birth.
If you are familiar with what cataracts are, more than likely you have heard about this condition affecting older people.
According to the National Eye Institute, cataracts are very common in older people. Here are some interesting statistics about cataracts:
- The risks for cataracts increase with each decade of life starting around age 40.
- By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
- By age 65, over 90 percent of people have a cataract and half of the people between the ages of 75 and 85 have lost some vision due to a cataract (Kellogg Eye Center, Michigan Medicine).
- Cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older (American Academy of Ophthalmology).
Now, let’s dive a bit more into what exactly cataracts are and how they can impact vision.
A cataract affects the lens of the eye which is a transparent part of your eye that helps focus light, or an image, on your retina. Your eye lens is pretty comparable to the lens of a camera in how it operates.
“In a normal eye, light passes through the transparent lens to the retina. Once it reaches the retina, light is changed into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. The lens must be clear for the retina to receive a sharp image. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurred,” reports the National Eye Institute.
“Clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. The lens consists mostly of water and protein. When the protein clumps up, it clouds the lens and reduces the light that reaches the retina. The clouding may become severe enough to cause blurred vision. Most age-related cataracts develop from protein clumpings. When a cataract is small, the cloudiness affects only a small part of the lens.”
To be clear, cataracts may occur in one or both eyes. Cataracts do not ‘spread’ from one eye to another.
We explained earlier that cataracts occur due to the natural process of aging. But there are also different types of cataracts.
Types of cataracts:
- Secondary cataract. These are cataracts that develop from other issues. For example, you can develop cataracts after surgery for another eye issue (such as glaucoma). People with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing cataracts, and steroid use has been linked to the development of cataracts.
- Traumatic cataract. Cataracts that develop after an eye injury (sometimes years after the injury occurs).
- Congenital cataract. Cataracts that occur in newborn babies or develop in childhood (usually in both eyes). Sometimes, these cataracts are so small that they do not impair vision. If they do impair vision, the lenses need to be removed through surgery.
- Radiation cataract. Cataracts that may develop after some types of radiation exposure.
Symptoms of cataracts:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Seeing colors that are faded
- Increased glare from headlights and other sources of light. Maybe seeing a halo around lights
- Poor night vision
- Double vision
How to be proactive?
The good news is that if you already suffer from cataracts, cataract surgery, which is the removal of the cloudy eye lens, is a very safe and effective surgery. It is usually an outpatient procedure and also a very common surgery.
“Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward,” reports the National Eye Institute.
Once the cloudy lens is removed, it is replaced with an intraocular (IOL) lens which is an artificial lens. There are different types of IOLs which you can read about here.
For example, some cataract patients will receive a lens that improves seeing from a distance, but they may still need to use glasses after surgery for activities such as reading. And then some patients are able to receive multifocal lenses which help with seeing up close and from a distance.
There are some cataract surgery patients who end up using contact lenses (as opposed to glasses) after surgery. And then there are some people who may not be able to have IOLs implanted due to having other eye issues.
With babies, IOL implants can be a bit more tricky, which probably explains why baby Micah’s parents went through the trouble of regularly putting regular contact lenses in his eyes.
“IOLs can spare babies—and their parents—the discomfort of daily contact lens changes. They also reduce the risk of introducing germs into the eye. But the use of IOLs in infants has some drawbacks. Because infancy is a time of rapid eye growth, surgeons may have difficulty judging the right focusing power of the lens. And while IOLs are typically safe and complication-free for adults, they’re more likely to cause postoperative problems for infants,” (National Institutes of Health (NIH)).
Prevention is better than cure.
Although developing cataracts are a natural part of aging, cataracts can grow slowly over time and you may not have any symptoms in the early stages of cataract development. Or you may mistake your impaired vision for just getting older and not realize that the issue could be cataracts. This is why annual vision and eye exams are critical in being proactive regarding combating cataracts. As we have previously discussed, many people fail to get regular eye exams.
As with any health issue, it’s always best to know where you stand and if you fall into the high risk category. From there, you can implement preventative strategies in your daily proactive healthcare routine.
Other ways to fight cataracts?
- Avoid nutritional deficiencies.
“Although the results are inconclusive, studies suggest an association between cataract formation and low levels of antioxidants (for example, vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids). Further studies may show that antioxidants can help decrease cataract development,” according to the American Optometric Association.
In addition to this, having a deficiency in riboflavin (vitamin B2) may put you at a greater risk of developing cataracts. The NIH reports that taking supplements with both riboflavin and niacin (vitamin B3) may help prevent cataracts.
Before you implement supplementation, be sure to take a comprehensive nutrient test which will determine if you have any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. If you do, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and/or recommend quality supplements you can take.
“Experts theorize that if the progression of cataracts could be delayed by 10 years, annual cataract surgeries would decrease by 45 percent. Nutrition is one promising way to prevent or delay the progression of cataracts,” (American Optometric Association).
Other nutrients that may help delay cataract development include vitamin A and specifically the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.”
Foods such as carrots, cantaloupe, orange and yellow bell peppers, spinach, green peas and many other colorful fruits and veggies -plant-based foods in general - contain a lot of antioxidants and nutrients needed for overall eye health and delay of cataract development. So in other words, it helps your eyes if you always include plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet.
- Don’t smoke!
No matter how old you are, smoking cigarettes increases the risk of cataracts. There are practically countless reasons to not smoke, but if you are having trouble quitting, maybe losing your precious eyesight is the motivation you need.
Smoking also robs you of key nutrients your body needs to maintain healthy eyes.
- Watch the booze.
“Several studies show increased cataract formation in patients with higher alcohol consumption compared with people who have lower or no alcohol consumption,” according to the American Optometric Association.
Furthermore, abusing alcohol also depletes the body of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for eye health.
- Protect yourself from the sun.
Sun exposure may increase your chances of developing cataracts. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses, even on overcast days.
- Manage diabetes.
If you are prediabetic or diabetic, take proactive steps to get this issue under control. Diabetes can be detrimental to the eyes and may cause cataracts.
- Be aware of the side effects of drugs which may cause cataracts.
We have previously discussed how statin drugs (medication to lower bad cholesterol) may increase risk of cataracts. This is not to say that if you are taking these drugs, you should stop taking them. However, knowing the downsides of medications like these may help you make informed decisions about how to address the side effects caused by such medications.
Protecting yourself from cataracts, especially when you are older, is important to prevent falls. If vision is impaired, the more likely accidents and falls can happen.
So keep your eye on cataracts, so that you can combat them.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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