It’s June and that time of year when the summer sun starts showing itself more and more. It’s also when I start to remind my patients about protecting their eyes from bright sunlight to prevent cataracts as cataracts are the leading cause of blindness.
In fact, June is National Cataract Awareness Month. Statistics show that half of all Americans over 40 will get cataracts by the time they are 80! That’s right. Quite a high incidence of occurrence. However, as I advise my patients, you can prevent cataracts by doing a few simple things every day. Let’s talk about them.
How Do Cataracts Affect Your Vision?
If you’ve experienced blurring, or “cloudy” vision or a “star” effect coming off lights while night driving, you may have a cataract. There are other symptoms as well which include:
- Problems with glare or brightness
- Frequent eye prescription changes
- Irritation wearing contacts
- Depth perception problems
- Double vision/ halo effect
- Color perception change
What Causes Cataracts to Develop?
Your eye tissue is made mostly from proteins and water. Under certain conditions, these proteins can buildup and cluster together forming a clump. This protein bundle can grow larger and cause vision to become fuzzy or blurry. There are a number of external things that can cause these proteins to clump together and cataracts to develop. They include:
- Exposure to bright sunlight (not wearing sunglasses in summer sun)
- Use of inhaled steroids (like those used for asthma)
- Diabetes (higher sugar content in tissues can disrupt protein structures)
- Smoking (toxins from smoke cause proteins to clump)
- Certain medications (i.e. cholesterol-lowering drugs “statins”, or phenothiazines)
Who Is At Risk For Cataracts?
Generally, people may start to develop age related eye diseases like cataracts after the age of 40 but cataracts are very common in the over 60 age group. Some people may develop cataracts at a much younger age, in congenital or infantile conditions, and/or depending on what external factors their eyes have been exposed to chronically (diabetes, medications).
How Are Cataracts Treated?
Like most of my patients, you likely know someone who has had cataract surgery. The following are the 2 most common types of cataract surgeries performed by an ophthalmology surgeon today:
- Phacoemulsification: The cataract lens is dissolved and suctioned out by an ultrasound probe and a new lens is inserted. The procedure is usually completed in 30 minutes and requires only minimal numbing of the area. There are no stitches and no eye patch.
- Extracapsular cataract surgery: This type is used for more advanced cataracts. It involves surgical removal of the clouded lens with replacement of an artificial lens. It requires stitches to close the incision. Recovery is fairly quick over a few days and usually just requires wearing an eye patch and protective sunglasses for that time.
In addition, there is another alternative treatment for cataracts that is gaining more and more popularity and has a lot of research to back up its effectiveness. It can be used both to prevent cataracts and to dissolve them before they become too advanced and require surgery.
- N-acetyl-carnosine (NAC) drops: NAC is an herbal preparation eye drop that is inserted into the eye a few times a day. Research has shown it to be 80-100% effective in preventing and repairing light-damaged DNA in eye tissues. It contains antioxidants crucial to preserving eye tissue, lubricants, and an anti-glycating agent that helps to protect against glycosylation that occurs in degenerative eye conditions.
What Can You Do To Prevent Cataracts?
Many people think that developing cataracts and having surgery on them is just part of aging. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. You can prevent cataracts from forming in these ways:
- Wear UV ray protective sunglasses in strong sunlight.
- If you use inhaled steroids, shield your eyes when activating the aerosol.
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugars under tight control.
- Don’t smoke. Toxins from smoke create havoc with eyes and the rest of you!
- Observe good eye nutrition with a healthy diet that includes adequate vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and antioxidants selenium, lycopene. Vision building supplements that include lutein, gingko biloba, alpha lipoic acid, the herb eyebright, rutin, zeaxanthin, bilberry or blueberry, Omega-3 fats.
If you’re like most of my patients the last thing you want to lose is clear vision no matter what your age. So much of our simple activities of daily life, as well as our recreational activities, is dependent on good eyesight. As June is Cataract Awareness month, make sure you’re taking the measures to prevent cataracts by taking good care of your eyes. Establish optimal eye nutrition and adopt protective eye measures that can help assure that you maintain good vision well into your advanced years!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Eye Drops That Dissolve Cataracts, http://www.sageandwisdom.net/bright-eyes-eye-drops-for-cataracts-and-overall-eye-health.html
Photo Credit: cataractsurgical.wordpress.com