June is Cataract Awareness Month, when people all around the world are encouraged to learn about cataracts and take control of their vision. Right now, cataracts are the most common vision-threatening eye condition in Canada, with over 2.5 million Canadians affected by cataracts. Cataracts are also the leading cause of blindness worldwide. But the good news is that cataracts are treatable and while they affect vision, they do not impact your eye health. Vision can be restored with cataract surgery. While this surgery is very common and can help regain eyesight, the best thing is to prevent cataract development before it begins. Here are some risk factors that contribute to the development of cataracts so you can start protecting your eyes now.
A cataract is a clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye. As this lens clouds, light cannot fully penetrate the eye to reach the retina, which is the part of the eye that changes light into images. This lack of light in the eye causes blurry vision, with vision getting progressively worse as the cataract continues to develop. Cataracts can form in only one eye, although it is common for them to develop in both. Although cataracts frequently appear in both eyes, this is because of a person’s predisposition to the eye condition and it is not because the cataract is spreading. This eye condition is not a disease and it does not spread within the body nor does it spread from person to person.
There is no one known cause of cataracts, but rather a series of factors that contribute to the development of this condition.
While there are forms of cataracts that can develop at any age, it is most common to develop this eye condition after age 60.
It is believed that there is a genetic component to cataracts and therefore people who have blood relatives with cataracts are at an increased risk of developing the eye condition.
Pre existing medical conditions such as diabetes contribute to the development of cataracts. High blood sugar levels can lead to changes in the development of the lens and can cause lens swelling. High blood sugar levels can also cause enzymes in the lens to convert glucose into a chemical called sorbitol, a type of sugar alcohol, that can contribute to blurry vision.
Previous Eye Surgery
If you have previously had laser eye surgery, you are at an increased risk of developing cataracts. Because laser eye surgery became popularized with people just under age 40 in 1996, many people who underwent this surgery are only now reaching their mid-60s and developing cataracts.
The long-term use of steroid medication for arthritis, asthma, eczema, nerve pain, Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, or more can contribute to the development of cataracts.
Many people know that UV rays are bad for eye health, but you may not know that they contribute to the formation of cataracts. UV rays contribute to the breakdown of proteins within the eye that lead to lens clouding. To help protect against this, ensure that you are wearing UV-blocking sunglasses whenever you are outside, even in the winter. Remember that UV rays have nothing to do with the weather or temperature; it can be the middle of a freezing Calgary winter and UV rays can still damage the eyes, especially when reflected off of snow.
Cataracts develop painlessly and often slowly, so many people develop this condition without knowing. The best way to monitor your eye health and diagnose cataracts early is to get regular eye exams. At My Optometrist in Calgary and Three Hills, our expert optometrists look for cataracts and other eye conditions during an eye exam and can discuss a cataract management plan with you. Protect your vision with early intervention and understand your own eye health with the help of the My Optometrist team.
To book an eye exam with one of our optometrists, contact My Optometrist at one of our three locations, either Health First in SE Calgary, Sunridge in NE Calgary, or Three Hills, AB. You can also call us or fill out the online contact form.
Q: Why do cataracts make vision appear cloudy?
A: Clouding of the lens behind the iris usually develops due to the clumping of natural proteins in the lens. Normally, these proteins are organized in such a way that the lens remains clear, and light is not blocked from entering the eye. However, as we age, the protein components of the lens tend to fuse together, forming a cloudy area.
Q: What can I do to manage the symptoms of cataracts?
A: As cataracts develop and increasingly impair vision, you may need to get prescription glasses. Your prescription may need to be updated as the cataracts progress. Once cataracts are significantly developed/impairing your vision, you may be referred for cataract surgery which should restore your vision.
Q: What happens if I need cataract surgery?
A: You will be referred to an ophthalmologist and your optometrist will discuss different surgical options with you, such as the type of lens implant you may need, any pre existing eye conditions, and what recovery may look like. Cataract surgery is typically a quick day surgery with fast recovery.
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