Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss and the leading cause of blindness for people all over the world.
Age-related clouding of the eye’s lens affects more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). By 2050, the number of people in the U.S. with cataracts is expected to double to about 50 million, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Despite their prevalence, many misconceptions prevail about the condition. Since June was Cataract Awareness Month, this is a great time to educate my patients and clear up some of these common myths about cataracts.
Myth #1: Cataracts only affect seniors.
It is true that cataracts are very common in older people, and that most cataracts are related to aging. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery, reports the NEI.
However, the term “age-related” cataract is a little misleading and can be confusing to patients. In fact, people can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s. But because most cataracts are small and do not affect vision in middle-aged people, they may not notice the effects until years later.
Myth #2: Cataracts are just a part of aging and there’s nothing you can do about them.
While cataracts cannot be prevented, there are several things you do to slow their progression. These include wearing UV-protected sunglasses, eating a healthy diet, and taking nutritional supplements.
Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataract, such as smoking and diabetes, according to the NEI. And, cataracts are more likely to occur among women.
Myth #3: A cataract is a film that grows over the eye, and it can grow back after surgery.
A cataract is not a growth that covers the iris, but rather a cloudiness of the crystalline lens inside the eye. Some patients have the misconception that eye drops can “dissolve” cataracts. According to the AAO, there are no FDA-approved drops that can cure or delay cataracts. And, since cataracts are not a substance, topical treatments can’t help them and they can’t “grow back” after surgery.
Myth #4: Surgery is the only option for treating cataracts.
Patients may not be aware that cataract symptoms can range from mild-colors appear faded, eyes are sensitive to glare-to more severe-extremely blurred vision that makes driving and recognizing faces impossible. Mild symptoms may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses as opposed to immediate surgery. However, some patients may prefer surgery.
If vision loss is interfering with your everyday activities then surgery is the only effective treatment. But there’s no rush. “In most cases, delaying cataract surgery will not cause long-term damage to your eye or make the surgery more difficult,” states the NEI.
Myth #5: Cataract surgery is painful and risky.
Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed operation in the United States, according to the AAO, and “is one of the safest and most highly perfected surgical procedures in medicine, with a 95 percent success rate.” Of course, as with any surgery, risks do exist and you should discuss these with your doctor before the procedure.
Thanks to technological advances, cataract surgery has come a long way. Nowadays, it’s typically an outpatient procedure that takes half an hour or less, requiring only tiny incisions usually no sutures. In most cases, normal activities may be resumed the day after surgery, although patients will need to avoid bending or lifting anything heavy for up to one week after the procedure.