Developing a cataract, a cloudy area in the natural lens of the eye, is quite common. More so than you might think. In fact, according to the National Eye Institute1, it is projected that by the year 2050, the number of people in the United States alone who have a cataract could reach 50 million. Cataracts become more prevalent as we age, and as life expectancy increases, it makes sense that the number of people with cataracts will also increase.
Fortunately, cataracts typically develop slowly. Over time, though, they can interfere with day-to-day activities such as reading or cooking and make it more difficult to drive at night. If you are over age 40, now is a good time to start talking to your eye doctor about cataracts. Here are some things you may want to ask your doctor:
- Am I at Risk for Developing Eye Conditions Such as Cataracts?
Although age is the number one factor for developing a cataract, conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may increase your risk. Lifestyle factors such as smoking and excessive exposure to sunlight may also play a role, as can previous eye surgeries or injuries to the eye. That’s why it’s important to share with your eye doctor your full health history, including any medications you take.
- Are There Prevention Measures I Can Take to Reduce My Risk of Developing a Cataract?
Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, wearing sunglasses outdoors, and quitting smoking may reduce your risk of developing cataracts. Your eye doctor will be able to discuss changes you can make to keep your eyes as healthy as possible.
- What Tests Will be Performed and Will My Eye Doctor be Able to See Early Signs of Cataract Development?
In addition to visual acuity tests, which will help your eye doctor determine if you have a vision impairment that may be caused by a cataract, he or she will also perform other tests that give them a better view of the lens of the eye. One common test is known as the slit lamp test. A slit lamp is a specialty microscope that magnifies the front of the eye, including the lens where cataracts are formed. Talking to your eye doctor about the tests is a great way to understand exactly what is being looked for during the test.
- What are the Symptoms of Cataracts?
Common symptoms of a cataract include blurry or cloudy vision. Some people describe having a cataract as looking through a foggy windshield. Other symptoms include seeing colors as faded or yellowed, being sensitive to light, or seeing halos around lights, especially at night. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you are currently experiencing and to get a clear understanding of what to watch for as you age.
- How Will I Know When it’s Time for Cataract Surgery?
If you have already been diagnosed with a cataract, you may be curious about when you should consider cataract surgery. Most doctors will recommend surgery when declining vision interferes with your ability to perform everyday tasks, or participate in activities you enjoy, such as playing golf or doing needlepoint. Discussing surgery with your doctor early on will help you to know what to expect.
It’s important to get an annual comprehensive eye exam, particularly after age 40. Early detection of cataracts and other eye diseases can help you to maintain good eye health and improve outcomes.