Twenty-two million Americans are affected by cataracts, resulting in an annual estimated treatment cost of $6.8 billion. For Cataract Awareness Month, Friends for Sight wants you to be aware that you can help protect yourself from cataracts in a variety of ways.
First, remember to wear sunglasses, especially in the summer months when ultraviolet radiation is the strongest, as direct exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause cataracts. Secondly, avoid smoking and alcohol, as both activities can increase your chances of cataract formation.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens that leads to decreased vision. The lens is important because it focuses images onto the retina at the back of the eye. The image is then processed and sent to the brain. As a cataract matures, it often causes glare, as well as diminished contrast and color sensitivity. Over time, if left untreated, cataracts lead to decreased vision. The good news is the risk of developing cataracts can be reduced!
Risk factors for developing cataracts include diabetes, prolonged exposure to sunlight, tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Impaired vision can be restored by surgically removing the affected lens, and replacing it with an artificial one. While 50 percent of those over age 80 have cataracts, studies have shown that the risk for cataract development can be reduced by taking preventative measures in one's younger years. Behaviors that can reduce the onset of cataracts include reducing ultraviolet exposure, the avoidance of smoking, and minimization of alcohol consumption.
Studies have also shown that ultraviolet radiation may cause the protein in your eye lens to breakdown, resulting in cataracts. Wearing glasses with UV protection while outside will protect your eyes from excessive amounts of the rays; remember to wear your protection in all seasons, though, as the sun is prevalent year round. Not all sunglasses are efficient in filtering out UV rays. When purchasing sunglasses make sure that they are 100 percent UV-absorbent.
People who smoke at least 20 cigarettes per day have twice the risk of developing cataracts as compared to nonsmokers. Tobacco smoke contributes to the development of cataracts in two ways: first, free radicals in tobacco smoke cause damage to the lens of the eye; second, tobacco smoke greatly reduces the amount of antioxidants found in the body.
A 2010 Boston University study found that alcohol consumption of over 2 alcoholic drinks per day was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of the development of cataracts, and ultimately in need of cataract surgery, when compared to total daily alcohol consumption of 1 to 2 drinks. Consuming alcohol in moderation is always best.
While it is possible to reduce your risk of developing cataracts, unfortunately it is not 100 percent preventable. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of cataracts including: family history, medications, and age. For more information or to schedule a free vision screening, please visit: www.friendsforsight.org.