Though cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss worldwide, myths persist about their cause and treatment.
Cataracts affect nearly 22 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 80, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute.
“Cataracts are not preventable, but they are treatable,” said Richard P. Mills, MD, “and the best way to ensure vision stays healthy for a lifetime is to schedule a visit with an ophthalmologist. More than 90 percent of the people who have cataract surgery regain useful vision.”
As the eye’s lens, located behind the pupil, grows older, its cells die and accumulate. The result is blurred vision and “fuzzy” images. Eye injuries, certain medications and diseases such as diabetes are also known to cause cataracts. In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts. But at a certain point, cataract surgery — the most frequently performed operation in the country — may be necessary. There are four common cataract myths to dispel:
MYTH 1: Eye drops can prevent or dissolve cataracts.
FACT: The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any drops that cure or delay cataracts. Since cataracts are not a substance, there is nothing for the drops to dissolve.
MYTH 2: Close-up tasks like reading or sewing make cataracts worse.
FACT: Cataracts are not caused by how people use their eyes. However, cataracts likely become more noticeable during close work. One sign of a cataract is the need for more light to do the same activities.
MYTH 3: Cataracts are reversible.
FACT: The lens naturally clouds as it ages; this process is unavoidable and irreversible. But its progress can be slowed by quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet and wearing sunglasses.
If you are age 65 and older and you think you have cataracts, you may qualify for a free eye exam. The eye exams are provided by a program called Eye Care America, an organization that works with nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Visit eyecareamerica to see if you or a loved one qualifies for this care.