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Can You Prevent Cataracts?

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An older man getting his eyes examined for any eye conditions at the optometrist

The reality is cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in Canada. With age as a factor, anyone over 40 can get cataracts. 

A cataract is a clouding area of the lens in one or both eyes, causing vision problems. As the lens gets cloudy, it becomes less able to focus light onto the retina at the back of your eye. 

Cataracts develop slowly and make it harder to see fine details clearly or recognize colours as sharply as you used to, making driving difficult and unpleasant. Apart from age, other factors can cause cataracts. 

That said, there is no sure way to prevent cataracts, but there are things you can do to decrease your risk of developing cataracts. The first is having regular adult eye exams to keep your vision clear and detect early signs of any eye conditions. 

Let’s look at some lifestyle changes you need to make to lower your chances of getting cataracts.

Adopt a Healthy Diet

Fruits and vegetables high in vitamins have antioxidant properties that help maintain eye and vision health. Different nutrients impact specific aspects of eye health, such as:

  • Vitamin A: Vitamin A maintains light-sensing cells in the eyes known as photoreceptors. Foods high in vitamin A include liver, egg yolk, and dairy. Provitamin A carotenoids are high in some fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is higher in the aqueous humor, the liquid in the outermost part of the eye. Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C include peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries, and tomatoes. 
  • Vitamin E: Fatty acids are in high concentrations in the retina, and vitamin E protects these fatty acids from oxidation. Sources high in vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, vegetable oil, and flaxseed oil. 
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: These are carotenoid antioxidants that protect your retina from ultraviolet light. Sources include spinach, collard greens, and eggs. 

A diet rich in vitamins, nutrients, and minerals can help prevent cataracts. If, however, you do have cataracts, it slows the progression.  

Don’t Smoke

You can’t stop the aging process, but you can quit smoking or not take it up at all. Apart from your lungs and heart, smoking also affects eye health. 

Smokers are 2–3 times more likely to develop cataracts. By quitting, you will substantially reduce your risk of cataracts by decreasing the amount of harmful free radicals in your body. These can damage the retina and macula, causing cataracts.

Wear Sunglasses

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, both UVA and UVB, can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye diseases. The best way to protect your eyes is by wearing sunglasses whenever you go outdoors to protect your eyes from UV rays and to avoid glare in bright sunlight. 

An older woman, wearing glasses, sitting on her couch and smiling

Manage Other Health Conditions

Health problems such as diabetes (high blood sugar) lead to a higher incidence of developing cataracts—5 times more likely. Keeping blood sugar under control can prevent lens swelling and sorbitol from collecting in the lens. 

Reduce Alcohol Intake

Moderation is key, whereas too much alcohol consumption increases your risk of developing age-related cataracts. Alcohol produces free radicals in the liver that lead to the aggregation of lens proteins and cataract formation. 

Avoid Steroid Medications

Taking steroids can cause cataracts, called posterior subcapsular cataracts. Long-term use of steroids and higher doses can increase the risk of side effects, including cataracts. Always consult your eye doctor about the possible risks of using steroids. 

Reduce Your Risk

While there is currently no absolute way to prevent age-related or genetic cataracts, there are steps to reducing your risk of developing a cataract. Regular eye exams and vision screenings can detect early eye changes that may lead to cataracts. 

If you are over 40, you should have an eye exam every 2 years. If you are over 65, you should have your eyes examined annually. Your eye doctor may also recommend eye examinations more often if you have pre-existing conditions. 

Preventative care leads to quality vision and healthy eyes. Contact Eye Effects for any questions or concerns about your eye health. 

Written by Dr. Rod Adams

Dr. Rod Adams is a graduate of the University of Alberta and the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Adams has been in private family practice since 1997. During this time, he has developed a strong interest in pediatric optometry and laser corrective surgery options.
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