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Seeing Clearly

Last week we examined a major reason for blindness in the world, glaucoma.  This week we look at the leading cause: cataracts.

Cataracts are a cloudy fluid that forms on the lens of the eye.  Both eyes usually take on the condition, but it is possible that only one eye will be affected.  At first, sufferers may detect a glare or blurriness and/or believe they are becoming increasingly nearsighted.  Fortunately, many people in the United States have access to eye specialists who can diagnose and assess the severity of the problem.  Sadly, adequate medical care is not always available in third world countries or remote areas, and people can go blind from the condition.

The development of cataracts arises for a number of reasons.  Continued exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is believed to make individuals more vulnerable to this problem.  Injury, family history, some medications, and certain diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes are also thought to put people at risk.  Cataracts that occur as a result of aging are called age-related cataracts.  Regular eye exams are important in detecting the condition.

So, are cataracts completely preventable?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, there are steps that everyone can take to minimize the possibility.

  1. Wear sunglasses. People who wear sunglasses are doing substantially more than impersonating movie stars; they are helping to protect their eyes.  Be sure to choose glasses that block ultraviolet rays.
  2. Antioxidants. Antioxidants are thought to be beneficial in thwarting cataract formation.  Supplements such as vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and N-acetylcarnosine are ones that have shown promise.
  3. Limit refined sugars.  Sugars in the blood can be unhealthy for different health concerns, and cataract formation is on the list.  This may explain why diabetics are at greater risk.  Actually, minimizing refined sugars makes sense for many reasons.
  4. Eat nutritionally and monitor calories.  A nutritional diet (e.g., one comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins) and portion control have shown promise in some cataract studies.
  5. Avoid smoking.  Cigarette smoke is thought to increase cataract formation in some people.  Even when smokers do quit, they may still be at risk.  If individuals continue to smoke, though, they will be at even greater risk.  Consequently, quit smoking if at all possible; there’s nothing healthy that can come from smoking tobacco.

The treatment of cataracts sometimes takes a wait and see approach.  Certain people increase their eyeglass prescription, and others use assorted visuals aids.  Keep in mind that when eyesight becomes so impaired it interferes with satisfactorily seeing the world, then surgical measures may be necessary.  In fact, cataract surgery is the most regularly performed surgical procedure in America, and it is generally uncomplicated and mostly painless.  Luckily, many individuals who undergo the treatment fare very well and maintain nearly 20/20 to 20/40 vision.  The surgery itself routinely involves replacing the damaged lens with a plastic one, and advances in the field are frequently being realized.

Seeing clearly?  I think most of us want that in more ways than one!