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Can Cataracts Be Prevented?

No one understands exactly why the eye's lens changes as we age. Researchers, looking for preventive measures, are gradually identifying factors that may initiate or facilitate the development of cataracts.

Recent studies show people living in high altitudes or those who spend a lot of time in the sun develop cataracts earlier than others. Ophthalmologists now recommend wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen the eyes' exposure to UV light.

Other studies suggest people with diabetes are at risk for developing a cataract, as are users of steroids, diuretics, and major tranquilizers. But more studies are needed to differentiate the effect of the disease from the effect of the drugs themselves.

The location and the density of the cataract have a lot to do with what symptoms you experience and how soon you experience them. When symptoms begin to appear, new glasses, strong bifocals, magnification, appropriate lighting, or other visual aids may improve vision for a while.

You should consider surgery when poor vision threatens your enjoyment of life or your ability to maintain an independent lifestyle. Occasionally, a cataract obstructs the view of another eye problem that needs treatment. When this occurs, the cataract should be removed even if symptoms are not significant. But in most cases, there is no reason to have a cataract removed until your own visual requirements demand it. When you decide it's time, discuss your decision thoroughly with the ophthalmologist who will be performing the surgery.

Remember, cataract surgery is not only the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, it is also one of the most consistently successful. Over 90% of the people who have cataract surgery regain useful vision, somewhere between 20/40 and 20/20.