Millions of people are affected by cataracts, which Prevent Blindness America says is the most common cause of vision loss for individuals over the age of 40. In the United States, there are more cases of cataracts than glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration combined.
The prevalence of cataracts makes some wonder if they can be prevented. According to The Mayo Clinic, studies have yet to determine a way to prevent cataracts or even slow their progression. However, eye doctors and other experts say that certain strategies can help keep the eyes and the body healthy, which may keep cataracts at bay.
Regular eye examinations
Visiting the eye doctor on an annual basis, or as recommended by an optician or ophthalmologist, can help detect cataracts and eye problems early on. This helps prevent vision loss and enables patients to take proactive steps to treat their cataracts. Cataract surgery, which is now a common procedure and can usually be done with local anesthesia on an outpatient basis, is a common way to treat cataracts. During cataract surgery, the lens inside the eye that has become cloudy from cataract formation is removed and replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens, or IOL, to restore clear vision.
Smoking affects eyesight and eye health. Research suggests that smoking increases a person's chances of developing cataracts. The lenses of the eyes are mostly made up of arranged proteins, and sometimes these proteins stick together, breaking their careful formation and affecting the transparency of the lens. Cigarette smoke can damage the proteins in the lenses, causing them to stick together more readily, increasing the chance that cataracts develop.
Protect the eyes
Always wear sunglasses with UV protection, particularly glasses that block UVB rays, when spending time outdoors. Ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts. Remember, ultraviolet rays can be present even when it is cloudy outdoors, so make it a point to don your sunglasses before stepping outside.
Although the reasons why are still not fully understood, individuals with diabetes mellitus face a greater risk of developing cataracts. That risk may be elevated by as much as 60 percent. When increased blood sugar enters the lenses of the eyes, sorbitol forms, and both this and fructose can build up in the lenses. Increased sugar causes water to be absorbed inside the lens, resulting in swelling and increased cloudiness. By treating high blood-glucose levels, those with diabetes may be able to keep cataracts from forming.
Improve the diet
A healthy diet should be a priority for everyone, including people at a greater risk for cataracts. Eating foods high in antioxidants like beta-carotene, selenium and vitamins C and E may help prevent cataracts. That's because antioxidants help the body to fight free radicals, which can contribute to cataracts later in life.
A 2000 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighted two Harvard University studies that noted the role of lutein and zeaxanthin in the development of cataracts. The studies noted that individuals whose diets were high in lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods had a 19 to 22 percent lesser chance of developing age-related cataracts than those who do not incorporate these foods into their diets in high quantities. Foods that are high in lutein and zeaxanthin include green vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, collard greens, kale, mustard greens and peppers, winter squash and eggs.
Cataracts tend to be most noticeable when vision begins to grow cloudy. However, cataracts also can cause glares and halos; a myopic shift, in which a person who was once nearsighted becomes farsighted, and vice versa; drop in color vision; lens discoloration; and poor night vision. Those experiencing these symptoms should have an eye examination to confirm or rule out cataracts.