A cataract is one of several eye ailments to look out for as we age, but it’s also something that we can help prevent. This normally clear area of an eye’s lens becomes cloudy and impairs vision. While it can be present as early as birth, or shortly thereafter due to an infection acquired by the mother during pregnancy, it can also be caused by an eye injury, or post-surgery for an eye problem.
Usually, cataracts can happen very gradually over time, mostly in people over age 55, and often in both eyes (with one often worse than the other). Blurred vision, increased difficulty seeing at night, light sensitivity, or reduced intensity in viewing colors are common symptoms.
Cataracts are often detected during a thorough, routine eye exam (with patient history) by an optometrist. If found, you might be referred to an ophthalmologist to discuss next steps, including surgery options and risks (depending on how much vision is diminished, and if it’s hindering everyday tasks). If the impact is mild, the cataract may just be monitored closely via regular checkups for any worsening vision. A change in eyeglass prescription with an anti-glare coating, along with better reading light, may help temporarily.
Here are some ways to help avoid cataracts. Always consult your doctor first before taking supplements of any kind:
- Vitamin C supports every cell in the body, including those of the eye, plus the eye’s blood vessels. Strive for at least 300 mg daily (supplements shouldn’t exceed 1,000 mg daily) to help prevent cataracts from developing. Citrus fruits plus apples, bananas, peaches, cooked spinach, and raw tomatoes are good go-tos. Note: Diabetes, smoking, and steroid use all deplete the eye lens of vitamin C.
- Vitamin E can delay the formation of cataracts. Combining vitamin E with the anti-oxidants lutein and zeaxanthin can decrease the risk of cataracts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 22 IU of vitamin E daily for men and women. Fortified cereals, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, baked sweet potatoes, and wheat germ are all rich in vitamin E. Don’t take vitamin E supplements in excess if you’re on blood thinning medications, or other supplements.
- Zinc is good for overall eye health, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The FDA recommends 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women daily. Good sources include beans, black eyed peas, eggs, lean red meat, mixed nuts, poultry, seafood (especially oysters), tofu, and wheat germ. High doses of zinc supplements may cause problems (such as an upset stomach), and are not recommended.
- Plus: Limit alcohol, and don’t smoke! Aim for good nutrition and regular exercise to prevent diabetes (those with the disease are more prone to cataracts and eye problems). Wear sunglasses that provide 99 to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection.
Think preventive and proactive when it comes to cataracts.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano