You may already know that cataracts – the clouding of the lens of the eye – are normally related to the ageing process. What you may not realise is that cataracts are affecting more and more younger people.
In fact, Dr Claudine Pang, Consultant Eye Surgeon and Medical Director at Asia Eye Surgery Centre, says the number of younger patients coming to her eye clinic for cataract surgery has been on the rise in recent years. Some patients are even in their twenties! Poor diets and unhealthy lifestyle habits, she says, could be key contributing factors. The good news, however, is that certain preventative measures can be taken keep cataracts from progressing. Here’s what Dr Pang suggests.
“We all know how detrimental cigarette smoking is to your health. But, little do most people know is that smoking also poses risks to eye health, including the triggering of cataracts,” says Dr Pang. “Try your best to quit smoking while you still can, and if you aren’t a smoker, it’s best not to even think about trying it. As studies suggest, the longer you smoke, the higher the chances you have of developing cataracts.”
Protect your eyes from the sun
The sun is a major source of ultraviolet (UV) rays that increase cataract progression, says Dr Pang. “An ample dose of sun rays is a good source of Vitamin D, but allowing yourself to be exposed for much more time than needed can put you at risk of developing cataracts.” She suggests wearing a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes, and even a hat if you can.
Always check medicinal side effects
Many medicines (steroids, for instance) on the market have side effects that can lead to the progression of cataracts, says Dr Pang. “Even steroids taken as nasal sprays or inhalers can be a risk factor. Ensure your own safety before taking any medication, and especially avoid self-medicating. Make a habit of asking your doctor whether a medication will give you any side effects.”
Make healthy diet decisions
Studies suggest that your food choices can affect the risk of developing cataracts, too, says Dr Pang. “Include an ample amount of colourful fruits and leafy veggies into your diet. The nutrients and anti-oxidants that you get from these will help out in maintaining excellent eye health,” she explains. “Additionally, fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids is also associated with the reduction of cataract progression.”
Keep your sugar levels under control
According to Dr Pang, studies have shown that people with diabetes are more prone to developing cataracts. “This is why maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar is a must. It’s good for your eyes and your overall health,” says Dr Pang. “Avoid foods with too much sugar or carbohydrates to keep diabetes at bay.”
Visit your eye doctor regularly
“Regular consultations will allow your eye doctor to find out whether there are symptoms that may suggest a developing cataract,” says Dr Pang. “The earlier a condition is detected, the higher the chances of gaining your vision back. Don’t wait until you’re older and starting to experience some signs of a cataract.” Dr Pang believes adults above the age of 40 should have an eye check-up once a year if their last eye exam was normal. In the case where there is a cataract, she advises a check every six months.
“Prevention is always better than a cure,” says Dr Pang. Though early cataracts may have little or no symptoms, it’s important to look out for signs such as blurred or double vision, dimming of vision (especially at night), yellow colouring in your vision, glare in the sunlight. Also pay attention to whether or not your spectacle prescription keeps changing or your vision keeps fluctuating.
Those with high myopia (near-sightedness) are also more at risk of developing cataracts, and at a younger age, explains Dr Pang. “Hence we should aim to prevent or slow down the occurrence of myopia in our children. Nowadays there are eyedrops available that can slow down myopia progression if started early,” she says. “Children should get an eye screening at the ophthalmologist from age four onwards, and eyedrops may be started at any signs of early myopia if needed.”
If cataracts do develop, treatment is possible with surgery, where artificial lenses are implanted as replacements to the eye’s natural lens.
“We carefully plan out each cataract surgery so that the patient’s vision needs are taken care of through refractive correction,” says Dr Pang. “We do this by selecting the artificial lens that best suits his or her lifestyle and preferences.”
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