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June is Cataract Awareness Month

Author: Justin Johnson, OD, Optometry

The lens inside the eye, called the crystalline lens, is an important part of the eye’s complex focusing system. Normally clear, the lens focuses images onto the retina. Over time, the lens can become cloudy making it difficult to focus. A cloudy lens is called a cataract and occurs most commonly as a part of normal aging. However, cataracts can develop for other reasons such as diabetes, excessive UV exposure, smoking, or from injury. Poor nutrition, stress, and long term use of steroid medication have also been shown to cause cataracts. Rarely, cataracts can be present at birth.

Cataracts are often diagnosed during a routine eye exam before symptoms develop and can take years to progress before vision is affected. The most common signs of cataracts include difficulty with night vision, the need for more light when reading, and cloudy or blurry vision. Glare, faded colors, and halos around lights are other commonly reported symptoms.

Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness throughout the world. Fortunately, cataracts can be removed through a quick 10-20 minute outpatient surgery. During the procedure, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. For people who wear corrective lenses, cataract surgery has the potential to eliminate or reduce the need for glasses. It is estimated that by age 80 at least 50% of people will require surgery, making it one of the most common surgeries in the country.

Although there’s no known prevention for cataracts, maintaining optimal health, eating a healthy diet and wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes are recommended to help slow the progression of age-related cataracts. Good health maintenance includes regular eye exams that can diagnosis and monitor the progression of cataracts and help determine when cataract surgery is appropriate.

Mercyhealth has a number of eye and vision centers throughout northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Find a location near you, or call 888.39.MERCY.