Cataracts

More than four million Americans have vision-impairing cataracts. Fifty percent of those over age 65 have a cataract. One in every 10,000 babies is born with congenital cataracts.

Overview

A cataract is a painless, cloudy area in the crystalline lens of the eye. The lens is a clear tissue located behind the pupil and is composed mostly of protein and water. Light has a difficult time passing through the cloudy area, so visual images appear as though they're shrouded in fog. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes and they affect women more than men. They can take from a few months to several years to develop. Sometimes the cataract stops developing in its early stages and vision is only slightly decreased, but if it continues to develop vision is impaired and treatment is necessary.

Causes

  • A number of studies published in medical journals have shown that age-related cataracts result from oxidative damage (free radicals).
  • Cataracts can develop in conjunction with certain diseases such as diabetes.
  • They can develop from long-term use of certain drugs such as corticosteroids.
  • They are also associated with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
  • Mothers who have an infectious disease or engage in alcohol/drug abuse during pregnancy can have babies with congenital cataracts.

Symptoms

  • Blurry vision and poor night vision.
  • Frequent changes in prescription eyeglasses and contacts.
  • Sensitivity to bright sunlight or headlight glare at night.
  • Double vision in a single eye and colors appear faded.

Prevention

  • Shield your eyes. Wear sunglasses that screen out the sun's ultraviolet rays. If your job or hobby exposes you to very bright light, wear protective goggles.
  • Trim the fat from your diet. Fatty foods such as meat and whole milk dairy products increase free-radical activity.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the mineral selenium have been linked to cataract prevention.
  • Take a daily multivitamin. Researchers found that middle-aged people were 27 percent less likely to develop cataracts if they took a daily supplement.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers are 60 percent more likely to have cataracts than nonsmokers.
  • Watch your weight. People who are obese are twice as likely to develop cataracts.

Sources

National Eye Institute, Harvard, Blended Medicine by Michael Castleman, VisionChannel.com and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.

These Health Tips are for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.