A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend’s face.
Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight early on. But with time, cataracts will eventually interfere with your vision.
At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help you deal with cataracts. But if impaired vision interferes with your usual activities, you might need cataract surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is generally a safe, effective procedure.
Signs and symptoms of cataracts include:
- Clouded, blurred or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in a single eye
Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens.
Some inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems can increase your risk of cataracts. Cataracts can also be caused by other eye conditions, past eye surgery or medical conditions such as diabetes. Long-term use of steroid medications, too, can cause cataracts to develop.
How a cataract forms
The lens, where cataracts form, is positioned behind the colored part of your eye (iris). The lens focuses light that passes into your eye, producing clear, sharp images on the retina — the light-sensitive membrane in the eye that functions like the film in a camera.
As you age, the lenses in your eyes become less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Age-related and other medical conditions cause tissues within the lens to break down and clump together, clouding small areas within the lens.
As the cataract continues to develop, the clouding becomes denser and involves a bigger part of the lens. A cataract scatters and blocks the light as it passes through the lens, preventing a sharply defined image from reaching your retina. As a result, your vision becomes blurred.
Cataracts generally develop in both eyes, but not evenly. The cataract in one eye may be more advanced than the other, causing a difference in vision between eyes.
Modify your diet
A consistently healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, oily fish and whole grains may result in a decreased risk of cataracts. Antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as vitamins A, C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and omega 3 fatty acids may also reduce the risk of cataract progression. As is true for the rest of the body, a healthy, balanced diet will result in healthy eyes.
Protection from Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
Shielding your eyes from harmful UV radiation is imperative. A wide-brimmed hat, scarf or dupatta can shield your eyes from the harmful rays in the sun. In addition to this, polarized sunglasses, photochromatic lenses and UV blocking contact lenses may be used to prevent UV induced damage to the eye. UV radiation is known to increase the risk of both cataract, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Smoking is also associated with an increase in the risk of both, cataract and AMD, just like UV radiation. It is because the adverse effects of both are caused by the release of free radicals in the body. Smoking increases the risk of cataract formation and progression almost three times.
Control your blood sugar
Increased blood sugar results in cataract formation. In fact, the average age at which people with diabetes with poor sugar control present with cataract, is much lower than that of the average population. It is therefore vital to ensure proper glycemic control. In addition, high blood sugars also predispose one to a potential sight-threatening condition called diabetic retinopathy in which new blood vessels are formed on the light-sensitive retina. These new blood vessels tend to leak both fluid and blood, resulting in retinal swelling and hemorrhages.
Traumatic cataract has no age predilection, that is, trauma at any age can result in the formation and progression of cataract. It is therefore essential to avoid eye injuries by taking appropriate preventive measures. The most important thing is to use protective eyewear, including glasses and eye shields, to prevent eye injuries in hazardous situations at work and play.
Avoid the unnecessary use of steroids
Steroids are potentially life-saving drugs, but their indiscriminate and rampant use has led to several problems. In India, even chemists prescribe steroids with little regard for their harmful effects. Also, people tend to self-medicate. Steroids must be taken only on medical advice, and under strict medical supervision. In fact, you must discuss with your doctor the option of using steroid-sparing drugs for your ailment, whenever possible.
Visit your eye doctor
Even if you have no symptoms, you must schedule an eye examination at regular intervals, especially after forty years of age. Routine visits allow your doctor to look for signs of cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other vision disorders. This means that early intervention can be instituted, and your eye health and vision-related issues can be managed better.
DIET OF A CATARACT PATIENT
Salmon is rich in astaxanthin, a carotenoid that gives salmon and lobster their reddish color. “Astaxanthin protects the eyes from free-radical damage and helps retard the formation of cataracts,” Dr. Joseph Mercola, author of the best-selling The No-Grain Diet, tells Newsmax Health.
Salmon also has generous amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the main omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon. One study found that women who ate fish three times a week reduced their risk of cataracts by 11 percent when compared to women who only ate fish once a month.
• Orange juice.
Orange juice contains liberal amounts of vitamin C, and studies have suggested that vitamin C can reduce the risk of cataracts.
A study by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University found that nerve cells in the eye need vitamin C in order to function properly.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that high levels of vitamin C reduced the risk of cataracts by 64 percent.
• Green tea.
Researchers from the University of Scranton found that tea, both black and green, reduced glucose levels in the eye lens of rats and cut their risk of cataracts in half.
In addition, Chinese researchers found that catachins, powerful antioxidants found in green tea, protect eyes from glaucoma. The study, which was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that the effects of a single cup of green tea last for up to 20 hours.
Walnuts contain antioxidants and vitamin E, which work to fight inflammation. Walnuts also help to lower a specific protein called C-reactive protein that’s a measure of inflammation in the body.
Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids which are converted into sight-saving EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) as well as DHA.
Bilberries are a fruit that resemble and are closely related to blueberries and huckleberries. Bilberries, blueberries, and blackberries contain anthocyanins, the chemicals that give the berries their dark purple color. Anthocyanins fight inflammation and keep the arteries and vessels that feed the eyes from narrowing.
A Russian study found that bilberry extract completely prevented cataracts in rats genetically modified to have a 70 percent risk of developing them. A dose of 160 mg daily is recommended.
The old wives tale is true: Carrots are good for your eyes. One of the powerful nutrients in carrots is lutein, which is a major component of many yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
Lutein, along with another carotenoid called zeaxanthin, helps absorb the harmful ultraviolet blue light found in sunlight.
Egg yolks contain generous amounts of both leutein and zeanxanthin, both of which protect against the sun’s harmful rays. They also contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
Avocados are dense in nutrients. They contain lutein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin E — all great allies in preventing cataracts.
Broccoli is loaded with both lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful nutrients that lower inflammation and prevent free radicals from damaging sight.
Broccoli also contains sulforaphane, an antioxidant that protects eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.
You can also lower your risk of cataracts by limiting your intake of carbohydrates. An Australian study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that people who ate the most carbohydrates had three times the risk of cataracts than those who ate the fewest.
Another reason to prevent cataracts is to lower your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, another vision-robbing condition that is associated with aging.
“Studies show that those who have had lens replacement to combat cataracts are actually increasing their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by 3.8 times,” says Dr. Blaylock.