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August 7, 2007 > Make Sure You Can See Clearly as You Age

Make Sure You Can See Clearly as You Age

Cataract Awareness Month Highlights Proper Treatment

Cataracts seem to be an unfortunate rite of passage. Most of us will develop them when we are older. But there are steps you can take to protect your eyes and your eyesight.
"They are very common," said Dr. James Cohn, an ophthalmologist who works at Washington Hospital. "Unfortunately, cataracts are something that happens as we get older."
Cataracts are the leading cause of low vision in the United States, according to Prevent Blindness America, which sponsors Cataract Awareness Month in August to educate the public on the condition and how to get treatment for it.
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. As we age, old cells in the lens build up and block light as it tries to pass through, eventually blurring vision. Your lenses become less flexible, less transparent and thicker.
Most cataracts are slow to develop and cause no pain or sensation. At first, you may not be aware of the vision loss because the cloudiness can affect only a small part of the lens. As it grows larger, it clouds more of the lens, impairing vision. Symptoms include:
* Clouded, blurred or dim vision
* Increasing difficulty with vision at night
* Sensitivity to light and glare
* Halos around lights
* Requiring brighter light for reading and other activities
* Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions
* Fading or yellowing of colors
* Double vision in a single eye
A cataract isn't dangerous to the physical health of the eye unless the cataract becomes completely white, a condition known as a "hypermature" cataract. This type of cataract is very uncommon and requires removal if associated with inflammation or pain.
"Leaving a cataract in your eye doesn't hurt the eye itself," Cohn said. "We remove it when it impairs vision."
In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may help correct the vision problems. But when impaired vision jeopardizes normal lifestyle, it's time for surgery.

Surgery is Effective Treatment

Cataracts can't be cured with medications, dietary supplements, exercise or optical devices. The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove the clouded lens. More than 2.7 million cataract surgeries are performed each year, making it the most frequently performed surgery in the country, according to Prevent Blindness America.
"Fortunately, cataract surgery is a safe surgery that works," said Cohn. "The vast majority of patients come out seeing much better than they did before."
During surgery, the clouded lens is usually replaced with a new clear lens. The artificial lens is implanted inside the eye and is meant to be permanent. It does not require replacement or cleaning.
While cataracts are part of aging, there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing them.
"One factor may be the effects of ultraviolet rays over many years," Cohn said. "It's important to wear a good pair of sunglasses with a protective coating."
Other risk factors include eye injury, diabetes, family history of cataracts, previous eye surgery, prolonged use of corticosteroids, exposure to ionizing radiation, and smoking. You can reduce your risk by avoiding tobacco smoke, eating a balanced diet, protecting yourself from the sun, staying on top of other health problems, and getting your eyes checked.
It's important to have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist every four years after age 40, and at least every other year after age 65. If you experience any signs or symptoms of a cataract, visit your eye doctor right away.
"Maybe someday we'll know how to prevent cataracts," Cohn said. "But right now, it's something you need to contend with as you age."
To learn more about cataracts, visit
For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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