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Expert perspective: Dr. Michael Page on cataracts

Photo: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

To commemorate Cataract Awareness Month, Health Talk sat down with Michael Page, M.D., assistant professor in the Medical School’s Department of Ophthalmology, to better understand the common, yet treatable condition that affects so many Americans.

What is a cataract?
The National Eye Institute defines cataracts as being “a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision.” Cataracts are considered to be very common and are one of the leading causes of vision loss in the United States. More than half of people who are 65 or older have some degree of a cataract developed.

“As eyes age, lenses go from being soft and clear to more ridged and cloudy, resulting in the formation of cataracts,” said Page.

According to Page, indicators of a developing cataract are:

  • Blurry vision (both near and far)
  • Increased difficulty seeing at night
  • Double vision

Unlike changes in refractive error (nearsightedness or farsightedness), the impairment of vision from a cataract cannot be corrected with glasses.

Although common, cataracts can affect people to varying degrees and can be related to overall health status. They tend to appear earlier and progress faster for people with chronic medical problems, nutritional deficiencies, and those who smoke.  Some types of cataracts are hereditary, some are caused by the use of certain drugs, and some may be related to long-term unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light.

“There is not a whole lot that can be done to reduce the risk of cataract formation, besides eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and partnering with your doctor to treat any chronic disease you may have,” said Page. “Because of this, it’s recommended patients visit an eye care provider every two to three years for screening eye exams. Go annually if there’s a medical history of diabetes or high blood pressure.”

What are treatment options?
If cataracts are detected, eye care providers will either monitor the cataracts or, depending on the severity, choose to treat them.

The only effective treatment for a cataract is surgery. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks, but according to Page, treatment is among the most commonly performed and effective surgeries in medicine today and is generally very safe.

“In addition to assisting with vision, a surgical treatment can have a very positive impact on an individual’s quality of life,” said Page. “There is no age limit for cataract surgery; the treatment can help improve mental health including depression, may help a patient maintain his or her independence, and likely reduces fall risks and other safety hazards common in older people.”

  1. August 19, 2013 7:22 am | health and medicine posts Says:

    Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend’s face.

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