As a Doctor of Optometry and an Ambassador for Good Vision, I believe 2020 is the perfect time to dispel some myths about eye care and help everyone to be more at ease about their vision.
I find that patients are terrified most about cataracts although they have no idea what this condition really is. Before I define it here are some truths: in the United States this is not a blinding condition and many cataracts are managed by changing the eyeglass prescription.
The incidence of vision loss is increasing with the aging population. Every day approximately 10,000 people per day turn 65 years old. Over the span of 20 years, that adds up to a lot of people! According to the National Eye Institute: 10 years ago there were about 24 million people with cataracts requiring surgery. By 2050 that number will double to 50 million nationwide.
Cataract refers to the lens of the eye which is located right behind the iris. At birth the lens is clear. When it turns a cloudy yellow it is known as a cataract. The major symptom of cataract is blurred vision. It is very treatable.
Cataracts formation, like most everything, has to do with age. By age forty all of us will have had about 14,600 days of exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun. UV light is one of the main risk factors for developing a cataract. Therefore, a majority of us will have some type of cataract. Yet most of the time it will not impact vision at all. There is no predictable timeline for when it could start to cause vision loss or what some people refer to as “ripening”. Your eye doctor will have to monitor it yearly.
Other major risk factors for developing cataracts are smoking and alcohol consumption. Conditions such as diabetes, head or eye trauma, prior eye surgery, and treatments such as oral steroids or radiation can increase the rate and density cataract formation.
So we will all get a cataract, a yellowing of the lens in the eye, but the good news is that only a percentage of us will need to have it removed. The sheer number of people needing surgery is huge because of the large number of Baby Boomers. The symptoms that warrant cataract surgery include decreased vision that can no longer be corrected by eyeglasses and/or debilitating glare, especially at night while driving. Your optometrist will let you know when you reach that criteria and refer you for a surgical consult.
There is more good news! The surgery is an out-patient procedure. Your yellowed lens will be removed and replaced by a clear interocular lens (IOL). You will be at the surgery center for a few hours then go home to recover. Once the eye heals you usually will not need to wear glasses for distance! Your medical insurance typically pays towards a standard IOL that corrects distance. Then you will only need to wear glasses for reading. If you want to be completely eyeglass-free then you can opt for the premium IOL that will let you see far and close. You will have to pay out-of-pocket for this and you may be able to use pre-tax money in your health savings account.
Another treatment option that is being developed include eye drops that can help with the symptoms of cataracts.
There is growing research that foods that are rich in antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E decrease the formation and severity of cataracts.
A piece of advice: Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses to protect against ultraviolet rays of the sun!
Optometrists, as primary care providers, are the gatekeepers for ocular health. A fifteen-minute exam can keep you informed on the status of cataracts and other eye conditions.