While research has not yet proven that there is a way to prevent cataracts, some studies suggest that eating foods high in antioxidants may help. Minimizing risk factors, such as UV exposure, may also lower your risk of developing cataracts while protecting the overall quality of your vision. Cataracts can develop at any age but are especially common in men and women over 40. The only way to get rid of a cataract is through surgery, which is why implementing preventative measures may be worthwhile for your long-term vision health. Here is what you need to know about the prevention, causes, and treatment of cataracts.
What are cataracts?
Our eyes have a natural clear lens that is responsible for bending light rays to help us see. Cataracts are a clouding of this lens. Having a cataract will make it harder to see, causing blurry, hazy, and dull vision. Cataracts continue progressing unless treated through surgery.
There are different types of cataracts, and some forms like posterior subcapsular cataracts can lead to blindness in a matter of months. However, other types develop slowly, leading to a person’s vision gradually degrading over the course of years. Most cataracts are caught early enough that patients are able to get surgery before advanced vision loss occurs.
The early signs of cataracts include:
- Your vision is blurry or cloudy
- You have trouble seeing at night
- You notice that colors don’t seem as vibrant
- You feel that lamps or headlights appear very bright
- You see a halo around lights
- You have double vision, which may go away as cataracts grow larger
What is the main cause of cataracts?
Aging is the leading cause of cataracts. As we age, our eyes naturally change because proteins in the lens begin to break down. People over 40 are at risk of developing cataracts, but severe vision impairment may not become noticeable until years later.
Aside from age, other factors that can increase your risk of cataracts include:
- Certain medical conditions, including diabetes
- Eye injuries
- Eye surgeries
- Radiation treatments on your upper body
- Spending a lot of time outdoors, especially without protective sunglasses
- Using certain medications, including corticosteroids
- Having family members who have cataracts
In addition to the above, an Australian study found that those with dark brown eyes have a 2.5 times greater risk of developing cataracts than those with other eye colors. Researchers suspect this is because of the increased amount of UV light dark brown eyes absorb.
Cataract Prevention Strategies
Given how common cataracts are, everyone is likely to develop them eventually. More than half of all Americans over 80 have cataracts or have undergone surgery to have them removed. Our knowledge of cataracts has come a long way, but surgery is still the only known remedy once they form, making attempts at prevention all the more important.
Eat Healthy Foods
Some studies suggest that eating foods high in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can help prevent cataracts. This would include orange juice, eggs, green tea, salmon, carrots, walnuts, avocados, and broccoli. These foods contain a high amount of antioxidants and may have other properties to promote healthy vision.
Even on overcast days, there are powerful UV rays penetrating the clouds that can damage your vision. To protect your eyes from cataracts and other forms of vision damage, make sure that you regularly wear sunglasses. Proper sunglasses should block at least 99% of both UVA and UVB radiation.
According to the FDA, smoking makes you two to three times more likely to develop cataracts. This is because smoking leads to a higher amount of free radicals that damage lipids and proteins in your eyes, leading to faster cataract development. If you smoke, you can get help by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
The ADA suggests that diabetics can help prevent cataracts by eating a balanced diet and managing their glucose to ensure it stays within the target range, which is usually 80-180 mg/dL.
Stress and anxiety can aggravate eye conditions that may increase your risks of developing cataracts. For instance, long work days and staring at a screen can lead to dry eyes, reducing lubrication and increasing inflammation, in turn worsening cataracts.
Stress management techniques like breathing exercises along with intentional eye breaks can help you maintain healthy vision. If you work a desk job or look at a screen for long hours, practice the 20-20-20 rule where every 20 minutes, you look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 or more seconds.
Treatment for Cataracts
Early-stage cataracts cannot be reversed. However, you may be able to slow the progression of cataracts by employing the preventative techniques explained above, like protecting your eyes from further UV damage. In fact, UV damage is one of the things that causes cataracts to worsen quickly, which is why wearing sunglasses is so important.
Once cataracts develop, they will not go away on their own. The only way to correct cataracts is through surgery. There are unproven over-the-counter methods, such as eye drops, that are advertised as a cataract cure, but these products are not backed by research.
When cataracts begin to interfere with everyday activities, like driving, reading, or watching television, it may be time to consider cataract surgery. If you want to learn more about your options, schedule a consultation with SuraVision so that you can make an informed decision about what’s best for your eye health and lifestyle.