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Looking On the Bright Side: Cataract Prevention Is Cool

by Andrew Braun

January 2024

According to public health experts, one third of all residents in Stark County, North Dakota over the age of 39 have been diagnosed with a condition that is the greatest cause of blindness in the world: cataracts.

Cataracts, often referred to as “cloudy eyes,” develop in the lens of the eye. The lens works like a camera lens to keep what the eye is seeing in focus. The lens is made of proteins that stay clear into early adulthood. By around age 40, the proteins start to break down, clump up, and turn cloudy. This usually happens slowly and can affect one eye or both eyes. However, a cataract in one eye doesn't cause a cataract in the other.

As the clouding worsens, vision decreases, causing some people to see double or struggle to see at night, such as when driving. Others become sensitive to glare. Eventually, everything can become blurry. Once it gets hard to see, the only treatment is surgery.

Cataract surgery, the most common operation in the U.S., begins with drops to numb the eye. A surgeon then uses tiny tools to remove the hazy lens and replace it with a clear one. Almost all patients experience improved eyesight afterward, but vision can be blurry in the first few days, an eye patch must be worn for a week, and the eye may feel “gritty” for a few weeks. Surgery helps to prevent other problems caused by low vision, like falls. It is an operation usually covered by insurance.

It's worth knowing that there are ways to delay and prevent cataracts. One tip is to decrease time in bright sunlight. The sun produces ultraviolet (UV) light, and UV light has been linked to eye lens protein damage. That makes sunglasses, hats, and umbrellas important. Eye doctors specifically recommend polarized sunglasses, which block nearly 100% of lens-damaging UV light. It's also important to wear them all year long.

Although no one has discovered how to stop aging and some families may be destined to develop cataracts, consider that there are stylish ways to delay or prevent cataracts. Kids and adults alike can make both a fashion and a health statement with a sleek pair of sunglasses or a cool-looking hat.

This article also appeared in the January 11, 2024 issue of the Dickinson Press.

About the Author

Andrew Braun is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. He was selected as the Dickinson participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. The program focuses on teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers as a way to share health information. As a future rural healthcare leader, Braun has written this column to provide health information for his ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed provider.