Living 50 Plus

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Get to know cataracts risk factors

As men and women age, they can experience certain physical changes and health challenges. Vision impairment is one condition that many associate with aging, and cataracts are a primary concern for those of middle-age and older.

Today, more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts. According to the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

Cataract is clouding of the eye's lens that blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. Normally the lens is clear, which allows light to pass through to the back of the eye, so that a person can see well-defined images. If a cataract forms and the lens becomes covered in an opaque film, light cannot pass through easily. The result will be fuzzy vision, almost like looking through a fogged-up window. If cataracts are not treated, an individual may eventually lose most of his or her vision.

One or both eyes can be affected by cataracts. In the case of both eyes being compromised, one eye is usually worse than the other.

The primary risk factor for developing cataracts is age. The older a person is, the greater their risk. However, there are several other risk factors as well.

* Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun

* Certain diseases, such as diabetes

* Obesity

* High blood pressure

* Inflammation in the eye

* Hereditary influences

* Long-term steroid use

* Eye injuries

* Other eye diseases

* Smoking

Prevent Blindness America provides free information to the public on everything from cataract basics to tips on what to expect from cataract surgery. Visit preventblindness.org/cataract or call its toll free number at (800) 331-2020. And, as part of its new Healthy Eyes Educational Series, PBA offers a specific online module on cataracts, including a Power Point presentation and guide. The organization shares this information about cataracts:

* Early symptoms of a cataract may include cloudy or blurry vision.

* Lights may cause a glare, seem too dim or seem too bright.

* Sufferers may also find it difficult to read or drive, especially at night.

* Individuals may have to change their eyeglass prescriptions often.

There are no medications or other treatment options besides surgery to correct cataracts. In the United States, cataract surgery has a 95 percent success rate, and patients often have 20/20 or 20/40 vision post-surgery. Cataract surgery is also the most frequently performed surgery, often performed as an outpatient procedure.

In Canada,  where, according to Statistics Canada, seniors will make up 21 percent of the population by 2026, cataract surgery is also frequent and well tolerated. Approximately 250,000 cataract surgeries take place in Canada each year, according to The National Coalition for Vision Health.

It is widely recommended to get regular eye exams to check for cataracts early on.

"By getting a complete, dilated eye exam, your doctor can discuss with you the best strategy to protect your vision well into the future," said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America. "We encourage everyone, especially those ages 40 and older, to make their vision a priority by scheduling an eye appointment today."