Cataract surgery may prolong lifespan of older women

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Cataract surgery may prolong lifespan of older women

Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgery in the U. S. – almost 4 million last year alone - with a very high success rate of nine out of ten people regaining very good vision somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40.  Now a new study suggests there is more benefits to this surgery besides improving vision – women ages 65 and older who had the surgery had a 60 percent lower risk of dying from all causes. 

Published in JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers reviewed data on more than 74,000 women with cataracts finding this phenomenon of a longer lifespan they experienced. Why would cataract surgery increase length of life for women?  It was surmised that the study does not prove surgery was the reason for the longer lives but rather that it improves overall quality of life.  When your vision is improved, you are more agile with fewer incidences of tripping and falling.  With clearer vision, there’s a good chance you’ll be more physically active, take medications, and be more motivated to live life more fully. 

Cataracts can threaten vision in anyone, particularly over the age of 40. It is the main cause of blindness around the world and occurs in greater numbers than glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy combined.  In the United States more than 22 million Americans are affected by cataracts with the number expected to rise to 30 million by 2020. 

Women are more prone to cataracts than men, according to the National Eye Institute.  It is believed to be related to the reduction of estrogen after menopause that increases the risk.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts are a clouding of the normal clear lens of the eye.  The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil.  When we look at something, light rays travel into our eyes through the pupil and are focused through the lens onto the retina, a layer of light sensitive cells at the back of the eye.  In order to focus light properly onto the retina, the lens must be clear.  If the lens becomes cloudy, this is called a cataract.

Types of cataracts

·      Subcapsular  cataract

This cataract occurs at the back of the lens.  People who are at greater risk of developing a subcapsular cataract are those with diabetes or anyone taking high doses of steroid medication.

·      Nuclear cataract

This type of cataract is associated with aging and forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens.

·      Cortical cataract

A cortical cataract occurs in the lens cortex, a part of the lens surrounding the central nucleus.  It is characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens working their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion.

Signs and symptoms of cataracts

In the beginning when the cataract is developing, you may not notice any changes in your vision.  Once it begins to progress, you will find it interfering with daily activities.  At first, you may notice your vision is a little blurred or cloudy and that things you see are not as bright or colorful as they used to be.  Many people describe their vision with cataracts similar to looking through a dirty car windshield or viewing an impressionist painting.   Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes.

Other signs of cataracts can be when outdoors, the sun or an indoor lamp seem too bright or glaring.  Night driving can be affected as oncoming headlights causing more glare than before. 

Depending on what type of cataract you have will determine what signs and symptoms you may experience.  Once you notice any vision changes occurring, see an eye doctor or optometrist for an exam for a definitive answer.

Causes of cataracts

The lens of our eyes is very important to keep healthy.  Just like a camera lens, our eyes’ lens focuses light onto the retina for clear vision.  Our lens are made of water and protein and it’s the protein, arranged in a precise manner, that keeps the lens clear letting light pass through it. 

Aging brings about changes to where some proteins may clump together clouding a small area of the lens forming a cataract.  With time, the cataract can grow larger clouding more of the lens making eyesight more blurry.

It is not known exactly what causes the development of cataracts as we age but here are some risk factors associated with their development:

·      Diabetes

·      Obesity

·      Smoking

·      Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight

·      Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications

·      Statin medications used to reduce cholesterol

·      Previous eye injury, inflammation or surgery

·      Hormone replacement therapy

·      Alcoholism

·      High myopia

·      Family history

·      Oxidative changes in the lens

Treating cataracts

Once a cataract has developed and is interfering with your usual activities, the cloudy lens can be replaced with a clear, artificial lens.  This is known as cataract surgery and is generally a safe, outpatient procedure with a very high success rate.  During surgery, the surgeon will remove the clouded lens (cataract) of the eye replacing it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL) to improve vision. 

Improvements are always being made with new IOLs being developed all the time making cataract surgery less complicated and the lenses more helpful to patients. 

Preventing cataracts

There is no conclusive prevention or studies showing prevention of cataracts but there are things we can do to protect our eyes from this common eye condition. 

·      Consuming a high dietary intake of the antioxidant vitamin E may help.  Food sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens, kale, hazelnuts, pine nuts, avocado, broccoli, papaya and olives.

·      Consuming food sources of carotenoids containing lutein and zeaxanthin or supplements with them have shown to be a possible way to lower the risk of cataracts.  Food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include spinach, kale, Swiss chard and other leafy green vegetables.

·      Rich sources of vitamin C may also protect eyes from cataracts.  These include all berries, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit.

·      Wear protective sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays, particularly ultraviolet B (UVB) whenever you are outdoors. 

·      Have yearly eye exams

·      Quit smoking

·      Reduce alcohol use

·      Manage other health problems such as diabetes

·      Maintain a healthy weight