By Fred Cicetti
Q. I have to have cataract surgery and I’m a little frightened. Should I be?
I don’t know anyone who isn’t a little frightened by surgery of any kind, but cataract removal is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. It’s also one of the most common operations performed in the United States. About 9 out of 10 people who have the surgery have improved vision.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens, the clear part of the eye that helps focus images like the lens in a camera. Cataracts can blur images and discolor them.
Most cataracts are related to aging. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
Other causes of cataracts are diabetes, excessive exposure to sunlight, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, eye injury, eye surgery, prolonged use of corticosteroid medications and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Cataracts tend to worsen gradually. The clear lens slowly changes to a yellow-brown color, adding a tint to vision. If you have advanced lens discoloration, you may not be able to identify blues and purples.
The most common symptoms of cataracts are blurred images, faded colors, glare, poor night vision, double vision, and frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor, because they can be signs of other eye problems.
The symptoms of early cataracts may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment. The surgeon removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial lens.
What can you do about cataracts? Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.
If you are 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to looking for cataracts, your eyecare professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders. Early treatment for many eye diseases may save your sight.
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