Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in those over the age of 40. In simple terms, a cataract is the clouding of the lens over the eye, a thin layer found just behind the iris and the pupil. How common is this problem? To put it simply, more people suffer from cataracts than glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy combined. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 40, and Prevent Blindness America estimates that more than 30 million people will suffer from cataracts by the year 2020.
There are many different reasons this can happen, and many different factors could influence how prone to cataracts someone is. Nobody really knows why our eyes tend to cloud and wear out as we get older, but there are numerous factors which have been linked to cataract development, including:
- Ultraviolet radiation
- Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity
- Steroid usage
- Previous eye injuries
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Significant alcohol consumption
- Cholesterol reduction medications
- Genetic & family history
While the actual cause of cataracts is still unknown, one prevailing theory postulates that they come from oxidative changes in the human lens. Studies have shown that diets that are high in antioxidants can prevent certain types of cataracts.
Preventing cataracts doesn’t have to be as hard as it might seem. If you look at these factors listed above, many of them can be avoided by simply making healthy choices with your lifestyle, such as not smoking or only occasionally enjoying a small amount of alcohol. Other things may not be avoidable, such as steroid usage for those who suffer from asthma. For those individuals, a higher diet of Vitamin E has been shown to significantly reduce the chance of developing cataracts over time.
Taking care of your eyes is another way to prevent this problem from emerging. Wear safety goggles whenever you’re working with something that might cause shrapnel to be released into the air, such as working with wood or metal. Likewise, wearing polarized and UV-filtering sunglasses can lower the strain you put on your eyes.