Cataracts are shockingly common among seniors. It’s estimated that by the age of 70, more than 30 percent of seniors will have cataracts. In another decade, this will grow to greater than half of all seniors. Many have heard of cataracts, but you may wonder exactly what they are. Are they preventable? Are they dangerous?
What are Cataracts?
The simplest way to describe cataracts is as the cloudy spots on the lens of your eye. Cataracts can blur vision and require a person to frequently change their glasses prescriptions as they develop. Sometimes, cataracts will cause light sensitivity or a glare in your vision. In some cases, you may even experience double vision.
While these symptoms are all possible, cataracts rarely become too severe. Many people live with cataracts without requiring treatment outside of glasses. Cataracts can cause blindness, but this is extremely rare and often treatable.
Depending on the progression of your cataracts, you may need to give up driving. Driving can become dangerous when a driver has cataracts. Light sensitivity and glares can flare up. Objects can look blurry or be difficult to make out accurately. Even if your vision doesn’t appear to be too bad during the day, night driving is even worse. Cataracts weaken night vision. Light sensitivity and glare become even worse with headlights. If you have cataracts, check with your doctor about if you’re safe to drive.
What are the Causes and Can You Prevent Them?
Cataracts are caused by a breakdown in the tissue in the lens of your eye. The lens lies beneath the colored iris and focuses light into a clear image. For a variety of reasons, the lens thickens, becoming less flexible. Tissues within the lens will then clump together. This clump of broken lens tissue is the cataract and causes blurry spots on the lens.
Generally, the cause of cataracts is simply aging. As we age, the events described above occur, which is why such a large percent of the population will get cataracts within their lifetimes.
There are, of course, other factors that can increase your chance of cataracts. Extended use of steroids is one factor. The same is true for exposure to ultraviolet rays, x-rays, or radiation treatments. Diabetes, diseases of the eye, like glaucoma, and injuries to the eye can also lead to cataracts.
Currently, there are no proven ways to completely prevent cataracts, but you can slow the progress. Avoid risk factors like smoking, protect your eyes from the sun, and don’t use tanning beds. Following a healthy diet can also help, especially if you have diabetes.
Most people who get cataracts will not need to receive treatment. Prescription glasses and lifestyle changes are usually enough to deal with clouded vision.
If your vision becomes bad enough that glasses won’t do the trick, you may consider cataract surgery. The procedure is one of the most common in the United States and is very effective at restoring vision to seniors. Despite what some may claim, eye drops cannot dissolve cataracts, making surgery the only option for removal.
If you need cataract surgery, it’s a simple procedure. You’ll be awake during the operation, but your eyes will be numbed, and you’ll be given medicine to relax. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to see what’s going on. You’ll mostly see light and movement. The doctor will make a self-sealing incision near the edge of the cornea. From here, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one.
For many, Medicare will cover a medically necessary cataract surgery. If you’re on a Medicare Advantage plan, double-check your coverage so you understand what you may owe.
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For millions of Americans, cataracts are simply a daily annoyance that comes with aging. And, given the high percentage of people who will develop them, it’s likely you’ll deal with them at some point in your life. Knowing what you can and can’t do, and what to expect, can ease the burden greatly.
If you think you need surgery and aren’t sure if your Medicare coverage will cover it, use the Medicareful’s Plan Finder to discover the plans available to you and connect with an agent who can help you enroll.