“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.”
Those words were penned by the incredible Helen Keller—a woman who overcame monumental challenges after being born deaf and blind to become a famous author and global inspiration. Keller redefined what was possible for individuals living with visual and auditory impairments in an era that lacked the same level of sophisticated technologies and medical treatments available today.
In honor of Keller, born on June 27, 1880, every year, we celebrate Deafblind Awareness week during the last week of June. This year, to help further the conversation around preventive measures to minimize vision loss risks, we’re bringing you cataract and eye health best practices from our team of medical experts.
What are Cataracts and What Causes Them?
Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye’s lens. This eye condition is common in older adults and can slowly cause blurry vision. Symptoms of cataracts may include:
- Clouded, blurred, or dim vision that makes the patient feel that they are looking through a frosty window
- Increasing difficulty or discomfort with night vision
- Double vision in a single eye
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Seeing “halos” around lights
- The need for extra light when reading or completing other activities
- Frequent changes in the prescription of your eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Fading or yellowing of colors
While cataracts can cause some vision discomfort, if untreated, they can develop into blindness. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
What Can You do to Minimize Your Risk of Cataracts?
While cataract development is common in older adults, there are some healthy lifestyle practices that you can follow to minimize your likelihood of developing cataracts as you age.
Eat a Balanced and Healthy Diet
Some research indicates that high antioxidant foods may help prevent cataracts. Try to add foods high in vitamins C and E to your diet, such as:
- Citrus fruits
- Red and green peppers
- Brussel sprouts
- Kiwi fruit
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Wheat germ
- Almonds and peanuts
Protect Your Eyes from Sun Exposure
Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure can cause changes to your eyes and damage the proteins in your lens, putting you at greater risk for developing cataracts. Anytime you are outside during the day, even if it’s a bit cloudy, be sure to protect your eyes with sunglasses specifically designed to block UV light. If you are an outdoor athlete, such as a cyclist, runner, or even if you play a contact sport, you may benefit from protective athletic eye ware designed to block UV rays.
Watch Your Blood Sugar
Being diabetic may put you at an increased risk of developing cataracts. When one’s blood sugar remains high for a prolonged period, the eye lens changes blood sugar into sorbitol which, when it collects in the lens, may cause a cataract to form. Eating a diet low in sugar and closely monitoring your health for early signs of diabetes can help minimize your chances of cataracts.
Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption
Research indicates that those who drink fewer than two standard-size alcoholic drinks daily are at a lower risk of developing cataracts. Conversely, those who drink more than two standard drinks per day face an increased risk of cataract development. If you need help moderating your alcohol intake, talk to your doctor.
Smoking may increase your risk of developing cataracts, as it creates more free radicals in your eyes, which are chemicals that can damage healthy cells. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or visit smokefree.gov.
Obtain Regular Eye Exams
Your eye doctor can help you identify changes in your eye health that may indicate an increased risk of cataracts. Adults between ages 40 and 64 should obtain a full eye exam every two to four years, and adults over age 65 should obtain an eye exam every one to two years.