Most people have heard of cataracts and know they have something to do with the eyes, but what are they? Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents passage of light into the eye, dimming vision. Left untreated, cataracts can eventually cause blindness as they progress. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, accounting for 51 percent of all cases, according to the World Health Organization. Five percent of blindness in the United States are caused by cataracts, which affects almost 26 million Americans and is most prevalent in individuals over 40, although cataracts can afflict people of all ages. Because so many people suffer from cataract-induced vision loss, advocacy group Prevent Blindness America has declared June Cataract Awareness Month.
Fortunately, cataracts are simple to treat. A surgeon can remove the deteriorated lens and replace it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL) through a tiny incision in the cornea. Over three million Americans undergo cataract surgery annually, making it one of the most common surgeries in the United States and most people can resume normal activities fairly rapidly. The entire surgery lasts only about 20 minutes and has a success rate of 95 percent.
Although most people do not show symptoms of cataracts until at least the age of 40, cataracts can also affect young adults or even children. Heredity, disease, eye injury and smoking could cause cataracts to develop at an earlier age. There is no proven way to prevent age-related cataracts. However, choosing a healthy lifestyle can slow the progression of cataracts. Some ways to delay the progression of cataracts include avoiding smoking, reducing exposure to UV rays, eating healthy foods, and wearing proper eye protection to avoid eye injury.