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August is Cataract Awareness Month

Local eye specialists explain symptoms and offer advice

August 16, 2009
Messenger News

August is Cataract Awareness Month. In observation of Cataract Awareness Month, we would like to share with you information regarding this common condition.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens. This lens resides behind the pupil of the eye and is about the size of an M&M. The substance of this lens will develop some form of cloudiness with age in most individuals and can cause blurred vision. It is important to realize this decline in vision is treatable.

The only way to know whether you are developing cataracts is to have your eyes examined by your eye care professional. He or she will need to dilate your eyes and look at all the structures within the eye. It is generally a good idea to have a baseline exam when you are about 40 years of age. Your eye doctor will then let you know how often you should return for eye exams. Because the risk of cataracts and other eye diseases increases with age, it is recommended that at age 65 you have your eyes examined yearly or anytime you have any change in your vision. Oftentimes changes in vision can be treated with a change in eyeglasses, but there are times when vision changes require medical or surgical intervention.

Cataracts usually develop gradually, so you may not notice when your cataracts start to develop. In time, you may develop symptoms of cataracts such as:

Painless clouded, blurry or dim vision;

Increasing difficulty seeing at night or in low light;

Sensitivity to light and glare, seeing haloes around lights;

Colors seem faded or yellowed;

The need for brighter light for reading and other activities;

Needing frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription; or

Double vision within one eye.

You may wonder what you have to go through to find out if you have cataracts. Your eye doctor would need to perform a refraction test to measure the power of your eyes and then measure the visual acuity to determine what degree of detail your eyes can see. You would have your eyes examined with a slit lamp which uses high magnification to study in detail the various structures of the eyes. Included in the exam would be evaluation of your retinas (which line the back of your eyes like a layer of wallpaper and function much like film in a camera) and your optic nerves (which carry impulses from the retina to your brain where vision actually occurs). Also you would have your eye pressure tested, in part, to assess your risk of the common condition of glaucoma, which can lead to blindness through damage to the optic nerves. Within this exam your crystalline lens would be evaluated and the presence or absence of cataract would be determined.

Things you should do to reduce your rate of development of cataracts include:

Protect your eyes when out in the sunlight by wearing 100 percent UV blocking sunglasses;

If you smoke, quit or cut down. If you do not smoke, do not start, since smoking can increase cataract progression;

Take care of other health problems, in particular diabetes, since poor diabetic control leads to more rapid development of cataracts.

Things you should do if you find out you have cataracts include:

Have an eye exam every year if you are over 65, every two years if you are younger;

Use brighter lights for reading and other activities; a magnifying glass may be useful for viewing fine details;

Limit night driving once night vision, glare and haloes become problems;

Get the right eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct your vision. When it becomes too difficult to complete your regular activities, consider cataract surgery.

Avoid false remedies for cataracts including eye drops or other treatments that claim to reverse cataracts. There is, to date, no proven way to dissolve cataracts with eye drops. The only known effective cure for cataracts is surgery.

Information in this article and on other eye conditions can be found

Dr. Eric Bligard and Dr. Stephen Fox are ophthalmologists affiliated with the Fort Dodge office of the Wolfe Eye Clinic.



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