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Keep Your Eyes Healthy - General Vision Health

Updated on October 20, 2011
Left: A healthy eye. The lens is clear, and therefore light is crisply focused at the back of the eye. Right: An cataract-afflicted eye. The lens is cloudy, and therefore light is not properly focused and is fuzzy at the back of the eye. Art © SFG.
Left: A healthy eye. The lens is clear, and therefore light is crisply focused at the back of the eye. Right: An cataract-afflicted eye. The lens is cloudy, and therefore light is not properly focused and is fuzzy at the back of the eye. Art © SFG.

Cataract. You may have never heard the word, or have, and don’t know what one is. But you should.

A cataract is a disorder that occurs when the lens of the eye, normally crystal clear, becomes cloudy. The lens itself is responsible for fine-focusing the light entering our eye, and therefore vital to vision. When afflicted by a cataract, vision becomes blurry, discolored, and cloudy. And apart from causing blindness, cataracts account for nearly 1 million U.S. surgical visits each year, costing nearly a billion dollars.

While cataracts have often been viewed as a disease of the elderly (and why shouldn’t they be, with 58% of sufferers over the age of 60), that view is slowly changing. Recent studies have found that the body simply outliving our senses is not the only cause of cataracts.

One recent report has found that ozone depletion, and in turn, heightened UV levels, could increase cataracts. If ozone depletion continues along its predicted trends, 22 million new cases of cataracts could develop over the next century. And that’s just for Americans.

The World Health Organization reports that today, cataracts account for nearly 48% of the world’s blind – and this figure is simply age-related cataracts alone. This number is expected to rise as ozone depletion increases, and the effected age range is predicted to drop. So what can be done?

Just as sunscreen can decrease the risk of skin cancer, so too can better UV shielding sunglasses decrease the risk of cataracts. These sunglasses must wrap entirely around the eye, stopping any direct sunlight from entering. Wider brimmed hats can also help prevent cataracts as well.

Unfortunately, an increase in UV rays is not the only culprit of young and mid-age cataract cases. Another cause is smoking. Several studies have found that smoking accounts for nearly 20% of all cataract cases. And not just that - smokers who quit still have a higher chance of developing cataracts even 20 years after quitting.

Although you can’t stop aging, you can slow the process by taking preventive measures. The next time you’re planning on going to the beach, working in your garden, or enjoying a nice bright summer day, grab some UV blocking sunglasses, a hat, and leave the cigarettes behind. Don’t let cataracts become a disease of the young.

Matthew Gordon is the author of The Thin Blue Line: An In-Depth Look at the Policing Practices of the Los Angeles Police Department & To Live, To Think, To Hope - Inspirational Quotes by Helen Keller.

© Matthew Gordon, 2011

*This article is a simple explanation article, and should not be taken as medical fact. A doctor should be consulted for all medical related actions.


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