How to Prevent Cataracts
We’ll start with a confession: the title of this blog is a bit misleading. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire, easy-to-follow checklist guaranteed to stop you from getting cataracts. In fact, given enough time, everyone will get them. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! While you can’t totally prevent cataracts, you do still have some control over how early and quickly they develop. Effective, proactive eye care can help you preserve quality vision—and the independence that comes with it—for much longer.
The Link Between Aging and Cataracts
Why is this the case? The truth is that cataracts are as much a natural consequence of the aging process as wrinkling skin and graying hair.
In order to see clearly, incoming light needs to be focused by the lens of the eye. The lens is ordinarily made of clear and flexible tissue made from a specific mix of proteins. Unfortunately, as we age, these proteins slowly but surely begin to degrade and start to clump together. This creates “cloudiness” in the lens, resulting in symptoms such as faded colors, blurriness, halos, and reduced vision (especially at night).
More than half of Americans develop cataracts by age 80.
Keeping Your Eyes as Clear as Possible
While you can’t protect your eyes perfectly, making healthy choices and avoiding certain risk factors can significantly reduce your risk of developing cataracts at a given age.
Manage Contributing Medical Conditions (Especially Diabetes)
Diabetes is strongly linked with cataracts, especially when poorly managed. As with any other tissue of the body, your lens needs a steady supply of oxygen, nutrients, and energy (in the form of glucose) to remain healthy. If sugar levels are too high for too long, the lens starts to swell, becoming blurry.
Even worse, the lens naturally contains enzymes that convert glucose into a chemical called sorbitol. In small doses this is fine, but too much sugar leads to too much sorbitol, and that can mean long-term damage to the cells of the lens. If you have diabetes and want to keep your vision, managing your blood sugar carefully is non-negotiable.
Protect Your Eyes from the Sun
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun isn’t just bad for your skin. It can also speed up the rate of degeneration in the lens, causing cataracts to form in younger individuals (and get worse faster).
The energy in sunlight—and particularly UV rays—hastens the formation of unstable molecules in the body known as “free radicals.” These components are extremely chemically reactive and must “steal” electrons from healthy cells and tissue in order to regain their stability. Free radicals in the lens of the eye can cause healthy proteins to degenerate, clump, and cloud over.
Protecting your eyes from sunlight, therefore, is extremely important—especially in a sunny place like Tucson. Keep a pair of sunglasses with UV-A and UV-B protection close at hand. (If you already wear glasses regularly, transition lenses may help.)
Maintain a Healthy Diet
A number of encouraging studies have shown that healthy eating can delay cataract formation, as well as slow their progression.
You know how we just said that free radicals are a major contributing cause of cataracts? When free radicals start stealing electrons from healthy tissue, it’s call “oxidation.” Molecules that block or inhibit this process are known as antioxidants, and they are found naturally in many foods, including veggies, whole grains, and many “colorful fruits.” In some studies, diets high in antioxidants were linked to a greatly reduced risk of developing cataracts at a given age.
On the other hand, diets that are rich in less-than-healthy foods—fried food, sugary soft drinks and high salt intake—showed increased risk of all kinds of eye health conditions, including cataracts.
Ask About Your Medications
In addition to foods, certain chemicals present in various prescription and over-the-counter medications can influence cataract formation. Antidepressants, antihistamines, amphetamines, nitroglycerin and beta-blockers can enlarge the opening to the eye, which means more sunlight radiation can get in—causing cataracts to develop more quickly. Diuretics, meanwhile, can increase sensitivity to sunlight. And prolonged use of certain steroids, such as prednisone, is known to cause cataracts as a side effect in many cases.
If you take any medications regularly, make sure to let us know at your checkup and ask if they put your eyes at greater risk.
You can add eye health to the list of reasons why you should never start smoking—or at the very least, quit as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, heavy smoking can as much as triple your risk of risk of developing cataracts. As with other cataract risk factors, smoking is thought to increase the production of free radicals which cause lens proteins to deteriorate. It can also cause heavy metals to accumulate in the lens.
Schedule Comprehensive Eye Exams Regularly
Routine eye exams are an important component of overall health and wellness, even if your eyes aren’t bothering you and your vision seems clear and healthy as can be. We recommended you do this at least yearly, especially once you reach the age where cataracts and other eye problems often become more noticeable—generally around the late 50s or early 60s.
An optometrist like Dr. Zainalabidin can identify the early warning signs of cataracts, glaucoma, and other vision disorders—before they start interfering with your daily life.
Caring for Cataracts
Don’t wait until cataracts begin to significantly impair your vision and reduce your quality of life. The effects of cataracts can be counteracted with corrective eyewear, and corrected with surgery once they’ve progressed far enough to limit your activity. When detected early, cataract surgery is highly effective on average, with a success rate over 99 percent.
If you’re having any problems with your eyes—or you’re overdue for your annual checkup—give Head to Toe Healthcare a call today!
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