By Maggie Gill, System Communications Intern
The month of June is dedicated to raising awareness for an eye condition that affects approximately 22 million Americans ages 40 and older: cataracts. A cataract is a clouding in the lens, the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina – much like a camera’s lens. We can think of a cataract, then, as a spot on the lens that causes the pictures we take to turn out faded and blurry. It can grow over time, due to the clumping of protein in the eye, and if allowed to progress, can lead to blindness.
The good news is that cataracts that interfere with daily activities are treatable with a safe and effective surgery; an ophthalmologist removes the clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial lens. As with all surgeries, this one is done on an individual basis, so ask your eye doctor if you think that you might be a candidate.
An individual’s chances for developing a cataract in one or both eyes increase naturally with age. Senile cataracts, the type related to aging, make up the majority of cases, but there are other types, which have additional risk factors. According to Bennie Jeng, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the single non-age-related cause of cataracts is the cumulative exposure to UV rays over a lifetime. He also cites the use of steroids or steroid-based eye drops, traumas to the eye and side of the head and directed radiation. Other factors associated with cataract development include smoking and diabetes.
In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, here are some steps that you can take to protect your eyes:
- Wear a hat and sunglasses. Because long-term exposure to UVA and especially UVB radiation is known to damage the lens, Dr. Jeng advises the use of protective eyewear to minimize risk. Although radiation from the sun is present year-round, it’s particularly important to cover up in the summer months, when the days are longer and you are likely spending more time outdoors. Keep in mind, though, that not all sunglasses are made equal. When you’re purchasing a pair, be sure to check the label – they should block 99 percent of UVB rays and 95 percent of UVA rays.
- Avoid tobacco. Research shows that pack-a-day smokers are at twice the risk for developing cataracts. If you smoke, it’s not too late to reduce your chances and improve your overall health by quitting.
- Practice good nutrition. Studies on the impact of nutrition on cataract development remain inconclusive. Some suggest that xanthophylis compounds – pigments contained in leafy, dark green vegetables – help to promote eye health. In any case, these foods, as well as foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E, are often good for you and taste good, too.
The National Eye Institute recommends that you have a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years, whether or not you have cataract symptoms. If you don’t already have an eye doctor, you can click here to meet our physicians. Board-certified ophthalmologists, optometrists and vision scientists from University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Maryland Faculty Physicians, Inc. (FPI) provide comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of general and subspecialty eye disorders through a multidisciplinary approach. They offer innovative, advanced-treatment options for adults and children suffering from a wide range of eye disorders, and general eye care for those requiring corrective lenses. You can choose from four convenient locations, including the new state-of-the-art center at Waterloo Crossing in Columbia, Maryland.
To schedule an appointment or learn more about our ophthalmological services, please call 667-214-1111.
Although Cataract Awareness Month serves as a reminder to visit your eye doctor, it’s important not to lose sight of your good habits, and to look after your eyes all year long.