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Putting the threat of cataracts into sharp focus

Almost everyone who lives a long life will develop cataracts at some point. As more Americans live into their 70s and beyond, we all need to know a few cataract basics: risks and symptoms, tips that may delay onset, and how to decide when it is time for surgery, so good vision can be restored.

August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages Americans to know their risks, especially people who have diabetes, smoke, or have a family history of cataract.

A few simple tips will help you maintain healthy vision and make the right choices if you develop a cataract.

Get a baseline exam if you’re over 40. As part of the EyeSmart campaign, the Academy and EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, recommend that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline screening exam at age 40—the time when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur. During this visit your Eye M.D. (ophthalmologist) will advise you on how often to have follow-up exams. People of any age with symptoms or risks for eye disease, such as a family history, should see their Eye M.D. to determine a care and follow-up plan.

Know your risk factors. In addition to having a family history of cataract, having diabetes, or being a smoker, other factors can increase your risk of developing a cataract. These include extensive exposure to sunlight, serious eye injury or inflammation, and prolonged use of steroids, especially combined use of oral and inhaled steroids.

Reduce your risks. Use UV-rated sunglasses when outdoors and add a wide-brimmed hat when spending long hours in the midday sun. One of the best things anyone can do for their eyes and overall health is to quit smoking or never start. People with diabetes can reduce cataract risk by carefully controlling their blood sugar through diet, exercise and medications if needed.

Be informed about when to consider surgery. This decision is really up to each person based on his or her daily activities and related vision needs. The concept that the cataract is “ripe,” or ready, is no longer considered a valid reason for surgery. After age 65, most people will see their Eye M.D. at least once a year, where they will have their vision tested and learn whether cataracts are growing. But only an individual can determine whether symptoms like glare, halos, blurriness, dimmed colors or other cataract-related problems are making activities like driving and reading difficult or impossible. The Academy’s consumer guide to cataract surgery offers more information.

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