Cataracts are a haze or opacity of the lens inside the eye and are typically considered to be a natural part of the human ageing process. With as much research and development going into reversing the signs of ageing, such as with our skin, is there anything that can be done to also reduce your risk of needing cataract surgery in the coming years? Keep reading to find out how to prevent cataracts.
What Causes Cataracts?
There are various underlying causes of cataracts, and not all are fully understood. Age-related cataracts account for the vast majority of cataract surgery cases, but what is it about increasing age that induces the formation of a cataract and the associated vision problems? Experts believe that the accumulation of oxidative damage from UV exposure to the fibres of the eye’s lens is at least partly to blame. As the lens fibres become damaged, they lose their transparency, leading to the progressive haze and opacities found in age-related cataracts.
Apart from older age, any other disturbance to the lens, whether physical or metabolic, has the potential to induce a cataract and subsequent vision problems. Other known causes of cataract include:
- Blunt or sharp trauma to the eye
- Chemical injury to the eye
- Systemic metabolic diseases
- Congenital disease
- Certain eye operations
- Certain medications
Cataract surgery is the only absolute way of treating a cataract. During the operation, the cataract surgeon removes the cloudy lens from the eye and replaces it with an artificial lens implant, called an intraocular lens. If the thought of an eye operation is unappealing to you, you may be wondering how to prevent cataracts from growing in the first place. Although there is no definite way of ensuring you never get a cataract other than pre-emptively removing the eye’s natural lens before a cataract has a chance to form (a surgical procedure known as refractive lens exchange), there are steps you can take to reduce your need to step into the office of a cataract surgeon.
In most situations, cataract surgery is indicated only once the cataract begins to cause you vision problems. Because of this, being told you have cataracts does not automatically mean you will need cataract surgery in the near, or even far, future. Many people continue their daily activities quite happily for many years despite the presence of a cataract.
How to Prevent Cataracts?
There are certain steps you can take to help delay the development of a cataract or slow its progression.
Protect your eyes from UV radiation
As UV exposure has been implicated in the development of cataract, protecting your eyes from the sun may help to reduce the risk of growing a cataract. Some studies have found only a small percentage of cataracts are a direct consequence of UV exposure, meaning only a low proportion of cataract surgery cases would be avoidable with UV protection. However, as UV protection is important not only for cataract prevention but also to avoid damage to other structures to the eyes and skin, wearing a hat and sunglasses outdoors is still a good idea.
Smoking has negative consequences for not only cataract formation but also other aspects of your eye health, including increasing your risk of age-related macular degeneration. Smoking is directly and positively correlated with cataract formation; in other words, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of needing to visit a cataract surgeon. Fortunately, quitting smoking will reduce your risk, although your risk of cataract will remain higher compared to people who have never smoked before.
Drink less alcohol
Various studies have been conducted investigating the impact of alcohol consumption and the likelihood of requiring early cataract surgery. The findings suggest that heavy alcohol consumption (more than two standard drinks per day), is related to an elevated risk of developing age-related cataracts. However, researchers noted that moderate alcohol intake didn’t appear to have any significant association with cataracts.
Eat a diet high in antioxidants
Vitamins A, C, and E have an antioxidant effect, which could help to protect against the development of age-related cataracts. Fruits and vegetables high in these vitamins include green leafy vegetables such as kale, red and orange coloured produce, such as capsicum and tomatoes, and nuts, including walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts.
In theory, the antioxidant action of these vitamins helps to counter the effect of oxidative damage on the eye’s lens. It should be mentioned that not all studies agree that a specific diet will reliably protect against cataracts. However, as a healthy, balanced diet is beneficial for all areas of the body, there’s no harm in following well-balanced nutrition principles.
Protect your eyes from injury
As injury to the eye can induce the formation of a cataract (as well as cause damage to other structures of the eye), it’s important to wear appropriate safety equipment when engaging in high-risk activities. Eye injuries can be from blunt trauma, such as a cricket ball to the eye; penetrating trauma, such as from a shard of glass during a car accident; from chemicals splashed or sprayed into the eye; or from electrocution.
Even if you take all possible precautions to prevent cataracts, it is still possible you will develop them as you get older. If you’re concerned about cataracts, speak to your eye care professional.
Call us now on (03) 9070 5753.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.