Why Elderly and Seniors Eyes Develop CataractsPosted on July 31, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Diabetes, Vision Loss
Cataracts—what are they, and what causes them?
By: Dr. Sonja Iverson-Hill
The most common cause of loss of vision in people over the age of 40 is cataracts. In fact, according to Prevent Blindness America (PBA) over half of all Americans will have cataracts by the time they are 80 years old. Cataracts, however, are a natural aging process of the eye. The lens, which is located behind the iris, becomes more opaque and cloudy causing vision to be hazy and blurry. Similar to a camera lens which needs to be clean in order to take a clear picture, the lenses inside our eyes also need to be clear in order for our vision to be sharp. While some find it particularly difficult to accomplish simple daily tasks due to the blur and glare that their cataracts produce, others seem not to notice the changes.
The lenses in our eyes are mostly composed of water and proteins. With age and other risk factors, the proteins clump and form a cloud over the lens. With time this cloud becomes denser and obstructs vision as it prevents the passage of light into the eye. Cataracts do not cause any eye pain, redness, or watering. They can cause blurred vision, a hazy film or ghost images, glare, halos, difficultly focusing when reading, and they can make light seem dim. In no particular order, the following factors have been identified as possible risk factors for the development of cataracts:
• Ultraviolet radiation
• Family history
• Eye disease and inflammation
• High myopia (nearsightedness)
• Previous eye surgery
• Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications • Significant alcohol consumption
• Statin medicines
• Hormone replacement therapy
• Eye injuries
While the prevention of cataracts is still up for debate, some studies have indicated that some nutrients and supplements may reduce the risk for developing cataracts. Foods with vitamin E (sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, etc.), lutein and zeaxanthin (spinach, kale, other leafy green vegetables), antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C (dark green leafy vegetables, berries, citrus fruits, etc.), and omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed, fish, soy milk, walnuts, etc.) may potentially slow the progression of cataracts in some people. It is important to discuss these supplements with your eye care professional before incorporating them into your daily diet. Wearing sunglasses that block 100% of ultraviolet light and wearing hats when exposed to the sun may also slow the progression of cataracts.
Cataracts can be very debilitating; the good news is that cataracts are curable. Cataract surgery can restore vision. More than two million cataract surgeries are performed every year in the United States according to the PBA. During cataract surgery, the surgeon removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a clear artificial intraocular lens which allows the light to pass uninterrupted through the eye. Most people regain vision that is between 20/20 and 20/40, as long as there are no other ocular diseases that may limit the visual outcome such as a macular degeneration or glaucoma. In order to prevent vision loss and identify vision threatening diseases like cataracts, regular dilated eye exams are recommended, even if you have no issues with your vision.