Ask The Doctor

Preventing and Correcting Cataracts

Dear Dr. Garner,

I am 75 years old, and lately I have a lot of trouble reading, particularly when the room is not well lit. I cannot drive the car at night as I get a bad glare from the oncoming cars. I hope you can help me as it is beginning to affect my lifestyle. I love to read and have just about given up. A friend thinks it could be cataracts.

What do you think?

Seeing Foggy in

Forest Hills

Dear Seeing Foggy,

From your description, I am also concerned that you have cataracts. A cataract occurs when the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy. It’s like looking through a frosty window.

The cataract grows slowly, and one doesn’t notice the changes early on. As it progresses, decreased vision occurs. The patient can usually overcome the poor vision by increasing light or eyeglass strength. There comes a time, however, when the increased light and strength of the eyeglasses are not enough to improve one’s vision well enough to carry on daily activities.

The good news is that the treatment of cataracts is safe and effective and usually done as an outpatient.

For those who feel they have cataracts, the following symptoms may be present:

• Blurred vision

• Difficult night vision

• Fading of colors – they just don’t look that bright

• Frequent changes in eyeglass prescription

• Seeing halos around lights

• Having a sensitivity to light and glare

Cataracts occur as a result of aging or injury that changes the tissue that makes up the lens of the eye. Some cataracts are inherited, and others just occur for reasons that we never discover. Some people are actually born with cataracts.

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can increase your chances of developing a cataract include:

• Increasing age

• Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

• Obesity

• Family history of cataracts

• Smoking

• Long-time use of steroids

• Exposure to excessive X-rays

• High blood pressure

• Previous eye injury/surgery

The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery. It is necessary to partner with your eye doctor to determine if and when you should have surgery.

Most eye doctors will suggest cataract surgery when your cataracts begin to affect the quality of your life or interfere with normal activities. It sounds to me that this is your situation. The cataract itself does not harm the eye, so there is no rush to remove it. As soon as the surgery is performed, you will notice a dramatic change in your vision.

The cataract surgery basically involves removing the abnormal lens, which is very cloudy, and replacing it with a plastic lens, which is clear. The surgery is usually done one eye at a time, a few weeks apart. Your eye doctor will use local anesthesia to numb the area around the eye, and you will stay awake throughout the surgery. The main risk is bleeding and infection. However, this is rare.

While awaiting cataract surgery, I suggest limiting nighttime driving, improving the lighting in your home and assuring that your eyeglasses have the most accurate prescription possible. This will allow better functioning while awaiting the surgery.

I’m often asked if there is any way to prevent cataracts. The following may help:

• Quit smoking as this will improve your overall health and limit your chance of developing cataracts.

• Wear sunglasses as some people believe that the ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts.

• If you have diabetes or other medical conditions, make sure that these are well controlled.

• Maintain a healthy weight and a well-balanced diet.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

Share this article with a friend.