Cataracts: How Do I Know If I’m At Risk?

Cataracts affect more than 24 million Americans over the age of 40. On the positive side, they generally don’t start to develop until around the age of 40, which means you have plenty of time to lower your risk and prevent or delay the condition.

At Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center, we help patients protect their eyes from cataracts. When you come in for routine eye exams, we can identify the early signs of cataracts long before you develop symptoms, and can prescribe treatment that protects your vision. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about your potential risk for cataracts.

Let’s talk about aging and cataracts

Cataracts occur as you get older. Of course, you can’t do anything about your age, but you can use age to your advantage. Cataracts start to form in your 40s, then they gradually worsen. It takes about 10-20 years before cataracts get large enough to affect your vision.

You can use this to your advantage by taking steps to lower your risk factors for cataracts in early adulthood. Multiple factors contribute to cataracts, so eliminating these variables can help to prevent or delay the problem.

If you meet any of the criteria listed below, you can consider yourself at risk for cataracts.

Genetics

There’s no doubt that genetics influences your risk for cataracts. So far, researchers have identified 37 genes associated with cataracts, and they expect to discover more. If you have a family history of cataracts, especially if they occur at a young age, chances are you have a higher risk.

Diabetes

When your blood sugar stays above normal levels, the amount of sugar in your lens and in the fluid inside your eyes increases. The lens has an enzyme that converts excess sugar into sorbitol. But when sorbitol accumulates, it contributes to cataracts.

If you have diabetes, you can prevent cataracts or slow down their progression by diligently keeping your blood sugar under control. Getting a routine eye exam is also crucial because we can identify subtle changes in your eyes and start treatment to prevent worsening problems.

Steroid medications

High doses or prolonged use of steroids, such as prednisone, causes cataracts. Unfortunately, steroids can lead to cataracts in younger people, so it’s especially important to get regular eye exams if you need to take steroids for a medical condition. If we detect signs of cataracts, we may reduce your dose or stop the medicine to prevent the cataract from getting larger.

Chronic uveitis

Uveitis is an inflammatory eye disease that often affects the uvea, which is the middle layer of your eye. But the inflammation can also develop in your lens, retina, and optic nerve. Cataracts are one of the most common complications that occur in patients with chronic uveitis.

Cataracts develop due to ongoing inflammation, then they worsen if steroids are used to treat the inflammation. Getting timely and effective treatment for uveitis may prevent cataracts.

Exposure to ultraviolet light

When your eyes are frequently exposed to ultraviolet light, the UV rays trigger a reaction in the proteins inside your lens, making them clump together. This is exactly what causes cataracts — proteins normally found in the lens form clumps, which make the lens cloudy and affects your vision.

Consistently protecting your eyes from sun exposure, either with a wide-brimmed hat or polarized sunglasses, reduces your risk for cataracts.

Smoking cigarettes

Smoking doubles your risk for cataracts compared with nonsmokers. The experts believe that smoking causes free radicals that damage the lens and leads to cataracts. If you stop smoking, your risk becomes almost as low as people who never smoked.

If you have any questions about your risk for cataracts, we’re here to help. Call Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center or schedule an appointment online.

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