August 8th, 2008
12:10 PM ET

Clear conversation on cataracts

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer


I come from a family of cataract sufferers.    My father had cataract surgery a few years ago. My mother has the beginning of cataracts.   So does my husband.  Even my dog has a cataract!


A cataract is the clouding of the eye's crystalline lens.  When we're born, the lens is clear.  As we age it begins to build up a film producing a cataract. Doctors say people who are developing cataracts begin to notice that they have glare and halos at night.  They don't want to drive in the evening.  They might have double vision from one eye.  They need more light to read or they can't read as long as they'd like. 


Everyone who ages will eventually get a cataract.  The good news, it takes time.  According to Dr. Marguerite McDonald, an ophthalmologist at NYU  "cataracts usually grow very slowly throughout life."  That's why I always thought cataracts affected older folks, usually over the age of 60. In the United States, about 50 percent of those between the ages 65 and 74, and 70 percent of those over age 75 have a cataract.


Women are affected more frequently than men. African Americans lose their vision from cataracts at twice the rate of Caucasian Americans, primarily due to lack of treatment.  But now eye doctors are saying younger people are becoming more susceptible to developing cataracts because of a number of factors.


Let's start with the sun.  Lots of young people need to watch their sun exposure.  Dr. McDonald says "the only effective thing you can do to retard the formation of cataracts is to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and to put a UV blocking clear coating on your regular glasses."   I'm lucky, because I always wear my sunglasses ... even indoors while shopping.   But if you don't like wearing sunglasses, wear a hat or anything with a  brim to keep the sun out out your eyes.


And, ophthalmologists say, check your family history.   Since both my parents have cataracts, I need to let my eye doctor know so he can keep an watch on any signs of early cataract growth.


Diabetes is also a factor.   The condition is one of the main causes for fast forming cataracts.   So physicians say watch what you eat; avoid fatty, sugary foods.  And get off the couch.   Keeping fit and eating a good diet can keep anyone from developing  Type 2 diabetes.


Smoking and alcohol can also increase the risk for cataracts.  People who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day have twice the risk of nonsmoker of developing cataracts ... and long term abuse of alcohol can rob the body of certain vitamins ... that can lead to early cataract development.


And watch what  medications you are taking.  Certain meds can cause early cataracts, especially steroids.  But drugs for heart conditions, cholesterol and epilepsy can also produce premature cataracts.  So it's best to talk with your family doctors about the prescriptions you're taking.


Are you developing cataracts?  How much of a problem are they?   Let us know.


Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.



soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Louise

    I found this very interesting. I had cataract surgery on my right eye in 2000 when I was 49 and on my left eye two years later. Everyone seemed shocked that I had cataracts at that age. I didn't think much of it because I am a diabetic and my mother had cataracts. I never realized that the anit-seizure medications they gave me years earlier contributed to their formation.

    August 10, 2008 at 01:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Rodney Kesslemen

    I watced that 2006 Tour de France and watched Floyd Landis win. I was very saddened when his title was stripped from him. I remember that I believe it was on stage 9, a mountain stage, and Floyd had troubles completing the stage. He had the Yellow jersey and fell back either 5 or 8 minutes back. So he lost the lead he had plus another 5 or 8 minutes. Many thought that his race dreams were over.

    The next day, stage 10 the stage in question, he took off. Almost from the drop of the start flag Floyd was in a breakaway. At the end of the stage he had gained back all that he had lost plus added another 5 minutes to his total. He got back the yellow jersey which he kept til the end. Truly amasing.

    So each time I hear about Floyd Landis I am sadden because he was stripped of his title, but I aways wonder about this stage win. So much so that I wanted to share my thoughts.

    August 10, 2008 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bea Westrate

    Both of my parents had cataracts (dad at age 53 and mom about age 75) and both had the cloudy lenses replaced. I'm now 56 and have cataracts in both eyes.
    I don't smoke, don't take any prescriptions, am overweight, don't have diabetes but do have high cholesterol. I just joined a club. I also take multi-vitamins almost daily, including vitamin E. My glasses also have that UV protection coating on them.
    So, is there anything I can do to get rid of them (other than surgery)? I'll have the surgery if necessary but I'd rather have the surgery be the last option.

    August 18, 2008 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sherry S Marshall

      IIf your vision gets bad enough you will be thankful for the surgery. Cataracts are increasing imperfections in the lens of your eyes. Your lens does not have to be visually cloudy. Although all surgeries have risks, cataract surgery is simple and covered by your insurance. I have both eyes done within two days of each other because I am extremely myopic. The surgeon told me the only reason they do not do both eyes at the same time is a risk of infection in the operating room. Do not fear cataract surgery; be thankful it exists.

      June 4, 2013 at 08:02 | Report abuse |
  4. MS

    I had cataract surgery at the age of 31 in my left eye, last year. I am yet to have surgery done in the other eye as it has not matured.

    I have no idea why i had cataract at such an early age – I am not diabetic; I don't smoke, drink or take steroids and have never been given steroids. I had lasik surgery in both my eyes 4 years ago. I have been trying to find out the cause for early cataract in my eyes.

    The doc said that it could be hereditary but the only person i know that had cataract surgery early was my maternal grandmum. Both my parents are over 50 and they still haven't had cataract surgery done. So i wonder can cataract skip gerenerations?

    July 23, 2009 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sherry S Marshall

      There are so many causes of cataracts, you may never know your exact cause. It is a fallacy to think 1) it has to be hereditary and 2) you have to have done something wrong. Be thankful the cataract surgery is available.

      June 4, 2013 at 07:48 | Report abuse |
  5. Eyesight kids improves

    Bad eye-sight is in fact a result of the bad habits we've grabbed over time. The eye certainly are a sensitive, vital part of the body and we often ignore the requirements.Cataracts

    January 24, 2012 at 10:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Sherry S Marshall

    Extreme Myopia & Cataracts: If you a very near-sighted, cataracts do not have to be visible to cause problems. After ten years of extremely poor vision, all the symptoms of cataracts and progressively worse vision, I finally went to another eye doctor. "My goodness, you cannot see – how are you functioning?" was the next eye doctor's reply. Go to an opthamologist NOT an optometrist. I personally never even considered cataracts because I thought they would be obvious to any eye doctor. After cataract surgery I have almost 20/20 vision without prescription lenses.

    June 4, 2013 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. pediatriconcall

    Yeah It's amazing article and thank you for sharing post. Unfortunately, once the lens of the eye has become cloudy, there is no medical treatment or nutritional method available till date for clearing the cataract.

    December 11, 2015 at 03:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.