Cataracts are a natural aging change of the lens in the eye. While the lenses age and cataracts slowly form over the decades of a person's life, the lens becomes less and less flexible and increasingly more discolored and cloudy. Basically cataracts turn the clear, flexible lens from our teen years into a cloudy, dark, inflexible lens that is difficult to see out of. The majority of the population over 65 have at least the early or middle stage signs of visually compromising cataract formation. While it can be frightening to begin losing your vision, cataract surgery is extremely successful and can restore up to 100% of the lost vision. If you notice even small changes to your vision, it is smart to talk to Dr. Kubota right away. Cataract surgery is best performed when the cataracts are in the less-dense middle stage and can be more easily removed.
Here are some preventive steps you can take to slow the progression of cataracts and preserve your vision:
The National Eye Institute recommends protecting your eyes from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) and high-energy visible (HEV) rays by always wearing good quality sunglasses while outdoors. Look for sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays and absorb most HEV rays with large lenses or a close-fitting style. Remember that the peak hours for sun exposure are between 10 am and 3 pm or 11 am and 4 pm during daylight savings time and that the sun’s rays are strong enough to pass through clouds, so you need your sunglasses every day. Wearing hats when outdoors, in addition to sunglasses, increases your protection significantly.
Steroid eye drops are routinely prescribed to treat dry eyes or an inflammatory flare-up in the eyes. Unfortunately, they can also speed up the progression of cataracts, so they should be used for the shortest time possible. If Dr. Kubota needs to prescribe a steroid eye drop for you, make sure to keep your follow up appointments so she can advise you on when and how to gradually stop using the steroid as soon as possible, without making your condition worse.
There are over 300 commonly prescribed medications with ocular side effects that may impact cataract progression. Be sure to bring a list of your current medications and supplements to your eye exam so that Dr. Kubota will know what you are taking. If you must stay on certain medications, it’s even more important to avoid sunlight during peak hours and to wear good quality sunglasses.
If you haven’t quit already, here’s another good reason to do it: over time, the damage from smoking can double or triple an individual's risk of developing cataracts. The good news is, by quitting smoking now, you can slow the progression of cataracts.
Studies have shown that certain vitamins and nutrients may reduce age-related decline in eye health, particularly antioxidants. If you’ve already been diagnosed with cataracts, adding foods rich in antioxidants to your diet will help slow the progression. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it is good to have a diet high in these nutrients: lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and E.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful carotenoids and antioxidants that defend your body against unstable molecules called free radicals. In excess, free radicals can damage your cells contributing to aging. Antioxidants reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. Doctors also recommend eating more fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. This has been linked to a potentially reduced risk of cataracts or their progression. You may also consider taking a multivitamin that contains Vitamin C and E. Talk to your primary care doctor or nutritionist about how you might adopt a healthy eating plan that’s designed to be good for your eyes.
Take control of your cataract diagnosis by getting annual comprehensive eye exams and communicating with Dr. Kubota. And don't forget that cataracts are a natural part of aging, but there are cutting-edge specialty cataract surgeries available now that can restore the clarity of your distance AND near vision! Ask Dr. Kubota about them at your next comprehensive eye exam!