Seeing the things you love is one of life’s many joys. Family, friends, prized mementos, or simple outdoor vistas. Imagine looking at those sights through a cloudy haze with dulled colors. That’s what having cataracts can do to your vision — and your quality of life. See how cataracts (and other eye diseases) affect vision with our Eye Disease Simulator.
June is Cataract Awareness Month, and we’re here to show you the what, how, and why of cataracts, from prevention to treatment and beyond.
What Are Cataracts?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers this definition: “A cataract is when your eye's natural lens becomes cloudy.”1 It might sound simple or not even that serious, but the result of having a cataract (or two) can dramatically interfere with your life, causing poor vision and even blindness.
For a real-world example, think of the clear plastic over your car’s headlights. Over time, that “lens” can become slightly yellowed, as well as hazy. For the headlight, the change comes from exposure to the elements, but in your eyes, cataracts are related to the breakdown of proteins in the lens.
Most cataracts are age-related, but there are other types, including cataracts that are present from birth, cataracts occurring after surgery or injury, or radiation cataracts from overexposure to radiation from cancer treatments to X-rays.
Are Cataracts Preventable?
Cataracts might seem like something that “sometimes happens” when we get older. Or, you might think that cataracts strike randomly. But it is not true that cataracts are inevitable for everyone or completely random. Cataracts can even develop when you are relatively young — for some people, that’s as early as their 40s. There are steps you can take to keep your vision healthier for longer, and reduce your risk of developing cataracts.
1. Protect your eyes from UV light. Use UV-coated glasses every time you go outdoors, even in winter or when the sun is low in the sky.
2. Keep vices in check: smoking and excessive alcohol use can contribute to the cause of cataracts. If you smoke, it’s always a good time to consider quitting.
3. Eat the rainbow. A balanced diet with colorful fruits and vegetables will help you keep enough vitamins and nutrients in your body.
4. Get an annual eye exam. It’s one of the best ways to detect cataracts and other vision conditions early on.
5. If you are pre-diabetic or have diabetes, take steps to manage diabetes symptoms and blood sugar. Changes in the fluid between the lens and the cornea can be affected by uncontrolled blood glucose levels, leading to cloudy lens cells.
How Are Cataracts Treated?
Even if you notice the signs of cataracts, there are steps you should take to protect your vision and stop the degeneration. The National Eye Institute is direct: "No matter what type of cataract you have, the treatment is always surgery.”2 The good news is the National Eye Institute says cataract surgery is moderately simple — it is one of the most common operations in the United States — and has a very high success rate.
The important part is to act early: the longer cataracts are left untreated, the more difficult it can be to successfully remove the cataract and restore vision through surgery. Cataracts might seem to start slowly, but they are still one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.
Life After Cataract Surgery
Recovery after cataract surgery is almost always at home, following your doctor’s instructions. There are a few guidelines you may be asked to follow,3 including eye drops that help with healing, and protective eyewear for a short amount of time while you are sleeping.
But within a relatively short amount of time, you’ll be back to all the things you love, from activities to seeing your favorite sights.
Know About Cataracts: Keep Your Future Bright
Protecting your vision health matters. Start with regular eye exams that can monitor the changes in your eyesight and detect cataracts (and other vision problems) in their early and sometimes more treatable stages.
Need vision insurance for your next regular eye exam? VSP has options for nearly everyone. Enroll online today and start by finding the right vision insurance plan for you. It’s time to protect your eyes for a healthy future.
Information received through VSP Vision Care's social media channels is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, medical recommendations, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.