Cataract Facts and Myths
Though cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss worldwide, myths persist about their cause and treatment. Cataracts affect nearly 22 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 80, more than half of all Americans will have cataracts, according to the National Eye Institute. Cataracts are a natural result of aging. As the eye's lens, which sits behind the pupil, grows older, its cells die and accumulate, turning the lens yellowed and cloudy. The result is blurred vision and "fuzzy" images.
Eye injuries, certain medications and diseases such as diabetes are also known to cause cataracts. In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts. But at a certain point, cataract surgery—the most frequently performed operation in the United States—may be necessary to improve vision.
Here are some common myths and real facts about cataracts:
Myth #1: Eye drops can prevent or dissolve cataracts
Fact: Not true. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any drops that cure or delay cataracts. Some such products claim they can prevent cataracts, but cataract formation is a natural part of the eye's aging process. Other products claim they can "dissolve" cataracts. But since cataracts are not a "substance," there is nothing for the drops to dissolve.
Myth #2: Close-up tasks like reading or sewing make cataracts worse
Fact: No. Cataracts are not caused by how people use their eyes. However, cataracts likely become more noticeable during close work. One sign of a cataract is the need for more light to do the same activities well.
Myth #3: Cataracts "grow back"
Fact: No. The cloudy cataractous lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens implant, so the cataract cannot “grow back”. Patients can develop a haze behind the implant, often called a “secondary” cataract, but this can be treated with a simple, painless, 5 minute laser procedure in the office, with no downtime.
Myth #4: Cataracts are reversible
Fact: No. The lens naturally clouds as it ages. This process is unavoidable. However, its progress can be slowed by quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet and wearing sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection.
Myth #5: Cataract surgery is dangerous, and recovery takes months
Fact: No. Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most highly perfected surgical procedures in medicine, with a 95% success rate. Of course, as with any surgery, risks do exist and should be discussed with a doctor before the procedure. Patients will need to avoid bending or lifting anything heavy for up to three weeks after the procedure, as well as refrain from rubbing or pressing the eye. Normal activities may be resumed the day after surgery, when the eye patch is removed. Cataract patients often notice vision improvement immediately following surgery, and others will notice more gradual improvement for a few months afterward.
Myth #6: Cataracts can spread from one eye to the other.
Fact: Cataracts can develop in one eye or both of them, but they do not spread.
So that’s the scoop on cataract myths and facts. Armed with a little knowledge and the assurance that cataracts are easily corrected, you will be all set to take on the world – and see clearly again.