August 10, 2020 by Carol Higgins
Facts About Cataracts
Getting older – it’s a matter of perspective whether you honor it or hide it.
However you view your age, the classic signs that accompany numerous birthdays can include gray or thinning hair, wrinkles, slowing metabolism, joint and muscle pain. But, did you know that another telltale sign you’re getting older is the formation of cataracts?
“Cataracts are a natural part of the aging process,” said Gaston Lacayo, M.D., an ophthalmologist affiliated with Baptist Hospital and West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “Just like gray hair and wrinkles.”
In fact, the National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, reports that the risk of developing a cataract begins to increase with each decade of life, beginning at age 40. By age 80, half of all Americans will have developed a cataract.
“Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye,” Dr. Lacayo said. “They develop over time as the crystal protein of the lens is exposed to external elements.” These elements can be ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, smoking and diabetes. With UV exposure and smoking, the lens undergoes oxidation. With diabetes, a large amount of sugar in the blood, leads to metabolic changes to the lens.
To prolong the development of cataracts and the effects they have on vision, Dr. Lacayo recommends that people wear UV-protective eyewear while in the sun, stop smoking and control their blood sugar if they have diabetes.
Surgery is the only treatment for cataracts, yet Dr. Lacayo notes that it’s not always necessary right away. Cataracts start out as a haze, and glasses can help maintain vision for a few years. “Once the clouding of the lens reaches a point when the patient complains of difficulty with reading, night driving or color detection, we will discuss surgery as a way of correcting that person’s vision,” he said.
Surgery involves removing the clouded lens from the eye through a small incision. Traditionally, ophthalmologists, like Dr. Lacayo, would make an incision in the cornea, or outer protective membrane of the eye, with a scalpel.
Over the past three years, however, he and his colleagues have been using a femtosecond laser to gain access to the lens. The old lens is broken up by ultrasound waves, removed and replaced with an intraocular lens. The laser approach offers a smaller, more precise incision, with less trauma to the eye and a quicker recovery for the patient.
“We’ve seen significant improvements to the microsurgical technology we use to perform these surgeries,” Dr. Lacayo said. “The femtosecond laser, which was originally developed to correct vision problems, has given us a great tool to treat cataracts, especially with the increasing demand for these procedures as the baby boomers reach the age when their cataracts need treatment.”
So whether you’re a baby boomer, a Gen Xer or a combination of the two, cataracts likely will be in your future. Knowing they commonly occur and the treatments available make you all the more wiser, no matter what age you really are.
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