Talking about Cataracts With Your Patients

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When it comes to vision problems, eye care professionals know about cataracts. But how much do your patients know about this common eye condition? Cover these basics when answering questions about cataract-related vision problems and prevention.

What is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, which is located directly behind the iris and pupil. Along with the clear front surface of the eye (cornea), the lens is responsible for focusing light onto the retina to achieve clear vision. 

How Common Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are common. In fact, they are the leading cause of treatable blindness worldwide, and the second leading cause of vision impairment (behind uncorrected refractive errors — nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cataracts are responsible for 51 percent of blindness worldwide. This means about 20 million people are blind from cataracts. More over, The National Eye Institute (NEI),  estimates that 24.4 million Americans had cataracts in 2010. This number is expected to grow to 38.7 million in 2030 and to 50.2 million in 2050, as the U.S. population continues to age.

Look For These Symptoms

Symptoms of cataracts include hazy or blurry vision, poor vision in low-light conditions, and glare. Cataracts also cause colors to appear faded and may cause “ghost” images or double vision in one or both eyes. Typically these symptoms gradually get worse over months or years, but in some cases they can occur and worsen within weeks. While cataracts do not cause eye pain (other than discomfort from glare), they may require frequent changes to a patient’s eyeglasses or contact lens prescription.


What causes cataracts?

Aging is the primary risk factor for cataracts. According to NEI data, cataracts affect 5.2 percent of Americans ages 50 to 54. This percentage increases steadily with age. In fact, more than 68 percent of Americans age 80 and older have cataracts. Other risk factors for cataracts include smoking, obesity, diabetes and a high lifetime exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. Long-term use of certain medications (e.g., corticosteroids) also can increase cataract risk.

How Can I Decrease My Risk?

The best ways to decrease the risk of cataracts is to maintain an active lifestyle, exercise frequently, watch your weight and avoid (or quit) smoking. Also, because long-term exposure to UV and high-energy visible (HEV) rays from sunlight has been implicated as a risk factor for cataracts and other eye health problems, wearing quality sunglasses that block these harmful rays whenever you are outdoors is highly recommended.  This habit should begin in early childhood for the greatest protective effect.

How are Cataracts Treated?

The only proven treatment for cataracts is eye surgery. Modern cataract surgery is safe and effective and performed on an outpatient basis. This means patient’s have the procedure done, and return home the same day. The surgery itself usually takes less than 20 minutes and most people experience a significant improvement in their vision within 24 hours. More than 3 million cataract surgeries are performed annually in the United States. The majority of these procedures produce excellent visual outcomes.

UV and HEV blocking sunglasses are essential for patients post cataract surgery

What To Expect After Cataract Surgery

Most intraocular lenses (IOLs) used in cataract surgery to replace the eye’s cloudy lens block 100 percent UV. However, this doesn’t mean patients should skip the protective sunglasses when outdoors. Because more light reaches the retina once a cataract is removed, patients may be more susceptible to being bothered by glare and bright light in certain conditions.  UV- and HEV blocking sunglasses are essential for protecting the front surface of the eye and the delicate skin around the eyes from sun damage, including skin cancer.

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