Cataracts: a sign of long life but decreased sight

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Minnesota Academy of Opthalmology

Almost everyone who lives a long life will develop cataracts at some point. August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology is encouraging seniors and their caregivers to understand cataract risks, symptoms, and prevention tips, as well as how to decide when it is time for cataract surgery so good vision can be restored.

Cataracts are the most common causes of vision loss. In fact, by age 75, about 70 percent of people have cataracts. However, cataracts typically develop slowly, so symptoms may not be immediately apparent. Over time, cataracts can cause vision to become blurry, cloudy dim, or dull – not unlike looking through a dirty car windshield. These symptoms may interfere with daily activities. 

The good news is that cataracts are treatable with cataract surgery.

A few simple tips will help you maintain healthy vision and make the right choices if you develop a cataract.

• Get a baseline exam if you’re over 40.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease -- who aren’t already receiving watchful care for a vision problem -- get a baseline eye exam at age 40. That’s a good time to assess vision, when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur. During this visit, your ophthalmologist will advise you on how often to have follow-up exams.

People of any age with symptoms or risks for eye disease, such as a family history, should see their Eye M.D. to determine a care and follow-up plan.

• Know your risk factors.

Having a family history of cataract, having diabetes, and being a smoker can increase your risk of developing a cataract.

Additionally, extensive exposure to sunlight, serious eye injury or inflammation and prolonged use of steroids can increase your risk of developing a cataract.

• Reduce your risks to prevent or delay the onset of cataracts.

Use UV-blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats when spending time outdoors to protect your eyes from UV damage. Don’t smoke. People with diabetes can reduce cataract risk by carefully controlling their blood sugar through diet, exercise and medications if needed.

• After age 65, schedule regular eye exams.

Anyone age 65 and older should be seeing an ophthalmologist regularly in order to detect any eye diseases or conditions early, and to monitor any vision loss. Seniors age 65 and older may qualify for an eye exam and up to 1 year of care at no out-of-pocket cost through EyeCare America, a public service program of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. See if you qualify at

• Know your options for cataract surgery.

Each person may have different considerations when weighing their options about cataract surgery. Symptoms like glare, halos, blurriness, dimmed colors or other cataract-related vision problems can make daily activities like driving and reading difficult or impossible. Talk to your ophthalmologist about surgery options.

• Know your history.

To be considered for cataract surgery, you will need to give your doctor your complete medical and eye health history, including whether you are on or have taken what may seem like unrelated prescription medications such as Flomax, Hytrin, Uroxatral or Cadura. If you have had LASIK or other laser refractive surgery, it’s important to provide your pre-surgery vision-correction prescription to your Eye M.D., if possible. (The record of this prescription is also called the “K card.”)

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