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By Kevin Damask, staff writer with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired

WCB Cataracts FactsVision loss from cataracts continues to be a growing problem, and while there is no cure, there are ways to prevent the onset of this disease. 

During Cataract Awareness Month, it’s important to realize that more than 22 million Americans are affected by cataracts, costing an estimated $6.8 billion in treatment costs. The disease is especially prevalent in people age 40 and older.

A cataract occurs when the lens in the eye becomes cloudy. For a person with a cataract, it may seem as if they are looking through a dirty, foggy windshield. When a cataract affects everyday activities, such as driving, doctors recommend having surgery to remove the cataract, which is the only effective treatment.

Amy Wurf, Low Vision Therapist for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, said there are several signs a cataract could be forming.

“Everything you look at may seem blurry, hazy or washed out; colors may not be as vibrant as they used to be,” Wurf said. “A cataract may make light from the sun or lamps seem bright and glaring. When driving, car headlights at night may seem to cause more problems with glare.”

According to Wurf, cataracts can also affect depth perception, which increases the risk of losing balance and falling.

“Because there is a general haze and lack of definition to what you see, it can be difficult to judge the depth of a step or curb,” Wurf said. “Take extra time on steps and curbs, keep sunglasses or a visor handy to manage glare outside and consider adding extra lighting in stairways or hallways at home. Keep a small flashlight on your keychain if you need to walk the dog at night to help you see the sidewalk and yard.”

If left untreated, vision can continue to decrease from a cataract. However, vision can be renewed by surgically replacing the lens with an artificial one. Before having surgery to remove cataracts, there are ways to improve vision by using everyday items.

“You might find help from using a magnifier to see print more clearly and trying different colors of sunglasses to reduce glare,” Wurf said. “Consider experimenting with good contrast to help identify objects. For example, avoid using a white dinner plate on a white tablecloth or placemat. Change the placemat to a different color, such as red or navy blue to increase contrast. Consider improving the lighting in your home with more or brighter lamps, but be cautious about creating more glare. Position the lamp away from your face and try to direct the light directly on what you want to read or see.”

Taking preventive steps during your younger years can reduce the likelihood of developing cataracts. Reducing exposure to ultraviolet light, not smoking, and cutting back on drinking alcohol are great ways of protection from developing this disease.

For more information on cataracts, go to the Friends for Sight website at www.friendsforsight.org or the Prevent Blindness website at www.preventblindness.org.