Aging can bring a number of eye problems that can in turn impact seniors’ independence. One common disorder is cataracts, which occur when the transparent lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque.
By age 75, about 70 percent of people will have cataracts. Once cataracts interfere with your daily activities, it may be time to discuss surgery with an ophthalmologist.
Cataracts may develop slowly over time, with symptoms so subtle you might not notice the changes at first. Not all cataracts impair vision or affect daily living. For those that do, common symptoms may include:
- cloudy, blurry, dim, or yellowed vision
- more difficulty seeing at night
- sensitivity to light and glare
- frequent changes in prescriptions for glasses or contacts
- double vision
Some people with cataracts compare the experience with looking through a dirty windshield.
Age is one risk factor, but a number of other conditions may increase the likelihood that a person will develop cataracts. Other causes of cataracts in adults include excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds, diabetes, smoking, long-term use of steroid medication, and previous eye injury or surgery. A family history may also increase your risk.
Mark C. Kuperwaser, M.D., director of ophthalmology at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, recommends the following steps to keep your eyes healthy as you age:
- If you’re over 40, have regular medical check-ups to detect treatable diseases – such as high blood pressure and diabetes – that can affect vision
- Have your vision examined yearly
- Quit smoking
- Wear a hat or sunglasses in the sun, and avoid tanning booths
In addition, Dr. Kuperwaser recommends seeing an eye specialist any time you notice loss or dimness of vision, eye pain, or discharge from the eyes.
An ophthalmologist can diagnose cataracts during a comprehensive eye exam. Surgery can often be delayed for months or even years if symptoms aren’t severe enough to keep you from everyday activities.
Simply adjusting your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses, or using brighter lights for reading and other activities, may help. Once impaired vision is impacting your ability to function independently, you may want to discuss surgery with your eye doctor.
Currently, surgery is the only effective method of treating the vision loss associated with cataracts. It’s a simple outpatient surgery, and one of the most common operations performed in the United States today.
New, less-invasive surgical procedures are constantly being refined. With no complications, cataract surgery can take about 10 minutes to perform. Recovery may be quick, and depending on your doctor’s advice, you may even begin to return to normal activities the following day. Within about a month, your eye should be completely healed and your vision improved.