Two million cataract surgeries are performed each year in the United States.
Given this staggering number, we wanted to highlight some surprising facts about cataracts.
1. Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness.
That's according to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Almost half of blindness worldwide is thought to be caused by cataracts.
Fortunately, cataracts are also treatable with surgery, which can restore lost vision fully and immediately. The American Optometric Association calls cataract surgery one of the “safest and most effective surgeries performed in the United States today.”
Almost 95 percent of patients report better vision following the procedure.
Although the risk is small, cataract surgery can increase a patient’s chances of experiencing retinal detachment, which is serious and should be reported immediately to an ophthalmologist.
2. Studies show that diabetes doubles the risk of developing cataracts.
Smoking is thought to play a role in increasing a person’s risk of developing cataracts.
The CDC expects the prevalence of cataracts in the population to rise as life expectancy increases. It is projected that by the year 2050, around 50 million Americans will develop cataracts.
Eating a diet rich in colorful, leafy vegetables lowers the risk, in particular because of nutrients such as zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins C and E.
3. Although cataracts are associated with aging, babies and children can get cataracts, as well.
In the developed world, the prevalence of cataracts rises with age.
However, infants can be born with cataracts, and children can also develop them at any age.
Women who have not been vaccinated against rubella have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with infection-related congenital cataracts.
Other infections during pregnancy that are linked to risk of cataracts are toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, syphilis, and herpes simplex. Regular prenatal care is the leading prevention strategy.
Metabolic disease is a leading cause of cataracts in children. People of any age who have experienced trauma to the eye, or who have undergone radiation or long-term use of corticosteroids, may develop cataracts as a complication.
4. Cataracts can have many symptoms—not just cloudy vision, or the sensation of looking through a haze.
Night vision may be decreased.
Diplopia, or double vision, may occur. Individual light sources may seem to be surrounded by a halo. Dealing with glare can become problematic. Objects themselves can even appear to be yellowed or faded.
As with most vision issues, the best way to determine if cataracts are present is to see a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist for an annual eye exam with dilation. Only with the dilated eye examination can doctors see into the eye and determine its overall health.
5. Cataract surgery is one of the oldest surgeries in the history of medicine.
The BBC reports on Earth Lab that ancient Egyptians performed a procedure called couching.
This technique, however, solved only half the problem. Unlike modern cataract surgery that replaces the old, cloudy lens with a brand new one, couching could only get rid of the old, problematic lens. This removal was accomplished by using thin bronze needles to push the lens back out of its place into the watery vitreous humor inside the eyeball. This technique allowed light to enter the eye again, but of course without a lens, patients could not see detail or resolve sharp images.
While it had its limitations, this ancient technique demonstrated that professional healers understood the cause of the condition. The couching procedure was performed for centuries, and later the option of removing the lens from the eye completely was added by Persian doctors, who used a hollow tube to suck the lens out of the eye.
French doctors performed the first modern cataract surgery in the 1740s.
Modern surgery replaces the clouded lens with a new one, generally of plastic.
Two types of surgery are currently used to treat cataracts: small incision and extracapsular surgeries.