As Canadians look forward to summer and spending more time outdoors, June is a good time to remind them of the importance of eye protection to maintain clear vision during Cataract Awareness Month. According to the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 2.5 million Canadians and, if left untreated, can cause blindness.
A major risk factor for developing cataracts is exposure to harmful UV rays over time, which leads to clouding of the lens. This results in hazy or blurry vision that worsens over time, eventually obstructing the ability to see and interfering with a normal lifestyle.
“While cataracts are generally very treatable, the focus should be on prevention to avoid vision loss in the first place and reduce the need for surgery,” says Dr. Phil Hooper, Chair of the Council on Advocacy at the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. “Wearing sunglasses year round, especially from a young age, will help protect the eyes from UV exposure that leads to increased risk of developing cataracts later in life.”
Vision loss happens slowly
Most cataracts are found in people over the age of 60, but changes to the eye start happening around the age of 40, and cataracts can occasionally occur in babies or young children. Loss of transparency develops slowly, causing a gradual and painless decrease in vision. In addition to blurriness, changes experienced can include:
- Glare, particularly at night
- Frequent changes in your vision prescription
- A decrease in colour intensity
- A yellowing of images
- Improved close-up vision for farsighted people, or reduced distance vision for nearsighted people
Risk factors also include some medications (e.g., steroids), systemic diseases such as diabetes, eye injuries, smoking and close family history of cataracts.
Treatment and prevention
Eyeglasses or contact lenses can usually correct slight vision changes caused by early cataracts, but they cannot sharpen vision once a cataract is severe. Once one has developed, there is no cure except to have the cataract surgically removed.
Canadians can help protect themselves against cataracts by reducing exposure to ultraviolet light by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, not smoking, and ensuring regular eye exams with their eye doctor.
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