Nearly half of people aged 75 and over have cataracts. In most cases, this age-related vision problem can be surgically corrected.
Definition of cataracts
Cataracts can occur in people as early as age 50 and are characterized by a clouding of the lens. Located in the eyeball, behind the iris, the lens is the part of the eye that filters light. In fact, it works much like a camera lens. When this lens begins to lose its transparency, vision therefore becomes cloudy, blurry and gradually impaired. Details become more difficult to make out. Colours can also appear faded and images may seem distorted. The person with cataracts may have the impression of always looking through a dirty window or a waterfall. This gradual loss of vision is not painful, however.
There are many types of cataracts, some of which can be congenital, others caused by a trauma to the eye (i.e. an eye injury). But most cases occur as part of the normal aging process. They are called “senile cataracts.”
Risk factors for cataracts
Aging is one of the main causes of senile cataracts, but there are also a number of other risk factors involved, including:
- Excessive exposure to sunlight, because UVB rays alter the lens proteins;
- Smoking, which has the same effect as sunlight;
- A deficiency in certain antioxidant vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and E, selenium, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene;
- Certain types of drugs and medical treatments (like radiation therapy for cancer);
The primary prevention measures involve controlling the various factors above. Here are a few practical ways that can help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts or at least slow their progression:
- Wear sunglasses that protect from both UVAs and UVBs;
- Quit smoking;
- Eat more antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, such as citrus fruit and green vegetables;
- Manage your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels if you suffer from diabetes.
Surgery is the only available treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery involves replacing the cloudy lens with a clear plastic lens. The operation is done on one eye at a time.
The surgery is generally performed under local anesthetic and takes 30 to 60 minutes. In 90 percent of cases, it will lead to a marked improvement in vision. After the operation, some people may go through an adjustment period that can last a few weeks. During this time, images and colours may appear brighter and more intense than before, causing some pain.
If you notice that your vision is decreasing, even with stronger glasses, do not hesitate to consult your doctor or an ophthalmologist. If you have developed cataracts, he will determine whether treatment is needed in the short, medium or long term, based on your lifestyle and the evolution of the condition.
If you have additional questions about cataracts and their treatment, talk to your pharmacist. He can help!