(BPT) – As we age, so do our eyes. Over time, adults may begin to notice their vision becoming dim and blurry. This is often due to cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that occurs as part of your body’s natural aging process. “While the only way to remove cataracts is through surgery, being diagnosed with cataracts doesn’t necessarily mean that surgery is immediately required,” says Dr. Charles P. Wilkinson, chair of EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that provides eye exams and treatment to qualifying seniors.
“Cataracts may not change vision significantly in the early stages,” he adds. “However, as the cataracts continue to mature over time, they may cause vision loss that can interfere with activities of daily living. When this happens, surgery may be a desirable option.”
If you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts, you’re not alone. Approximately 25 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute. Here are some important questions from the American Academy of Ophthalmology to ask yourself and discuss with your ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specialized in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – when determining your need for surgery:
Do cataracts impact your daily or occupational activities?
Dim, blurry, yellowed or double vision are all symptoms of cataracts. These symptoms have the ability to affect your work and enjoyment of hobbies, especially reading, sewing and cooking. If your vision is only a little blurry, it can often be corrected with a prescription for glasses. However, if you’re having trouble reading street signs or making out letters in a book, it may time to consider surgery.
Are you able to drive safely at night?
Individuals with cataracts typically lose night vision before losing daytime vision. Cataracts can cause halos around lights, making it difficult to see in areas with little-to-no lighting. Advanced cataracts can even cause enough vision impairment to fail the vision test required for a driver’s license.
Are cataracts interfering with your outdoor activities?
Cataracts tend to increase your eye’s sensitivity to glare, which is especially a burden for those who ski, surf or enjoy other active outdoor activities. If you’re a golfer, cataracts can cause visual differences from eye to eye, making distance vision and depth perception difficult during the game.
Are there alternative ways to manage your cataracts?
Many people with cataracts incorporate other methods to make the most of their vision, such as: brighter lighting, contrasting colors in your home, polarized sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats or magnifying lenses. Using these techniques may be able to delay the need for cataract surgery. However, if these tools no longer work for you, a surgical procedure can make a significant beneficial impact on your daily life.
“If cataracts aren’t disrupting your daily activities, you can wait to have surgery until they really start to bother you,” says Dr. Wilkinson. “But if you feel as though your blurred or dulled vision is slowing you down, cataract surgery may be your best option.”
Although the prospect of cataract surgery can be intimidating, the procedure itself is the most common elective surgery among Medicare beneficiaries in the United States. Multiple studies demonstrate that cataract surgery can lead to improved quality of life, reduced risk of falling and fewer car crashes.
People concerned that they may have symptoms of cataracts should see an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam to get an accurate diagnosis. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all adults have a baseline exam by age 40. Adults age 65 and older should get a medical eye exam every one to two years. Seniors may be eligible for an eye exam and up to one year of care, often at no out-of-pocket cost, through EyeCare America. For over 30 years, the program has helped more than 1.8 million older Americans through its corps of over 6,000 ophthalmologist volunteers. EyeCare America has been recognized as an outstanding volunteer organization by every U.S. president since 1985. Go to www.eyecareamerica.org to learn more.