With cataracts affecting nearly 22 million Americans, it’s not surprising that most of us know people who have had cataract surgery. We may even be contemplating cataract surgery for ourselves. Since cataracts are almost never a medical emergency, you should feel entirely comfortable taking the time to learn more about cataracts and explore all your options.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is simply a spot on the lens of the eye that you cannot readily see through. These spots are made up of clumps of normal eye protein and generally form slowly over time. Although most cataracts are related to aging, it is also possible for cataracts to form as the result of surgery or other trauma to the eye. Steroid use and other health problems such as diabetes are also linked to cataracts. Congenital cataracts can form in babies or children, and radiation exposure can also result in cataracts. Still, for most people, cataracts are age-related.
There are many symptoms of cataracts, and cataracts are not the only reasons for these symptoms. So if you have any of these symptoms, you should schedule an eye exam with your doctor as soon as possible. Common cataract symptoms include:
- Blurred or clouded vision
- Colors appearing faded
- Glare (from headlights, lamps, sunlight, etcetera) appearing too bright
- Halos appearing around lights
- Night vision decreasing
- Double vision or multiple images
- Frequent prescription changes in your lenses
Your doctor should perform a comprehensive exam to detect cataracts and look for other vision problems. This exam includes a dilated eye exam, tonometry to measure the pressure inside the eye, and a standard eye chart test. If you have small cataracts that don’t cause significant vision problems, you may decide to postpone surgery and see what less invasive approaches can do for you.
Surgery Alternatives for Cataracts
If your cataracts are small and not impacting your vision too severely, you may be helped by mechanical approaches such as:
- New glasses
- Brighter lighting
- Anti-glare sunglasses
- Magnifying lenses
But as cataracts progress, these measures may not be enough and it is at this point that you may start considering surgery. Eye doctors typically start discussing the option for cataract surgery if they cannot refract your vision in that eye to 20/40 or better due to the cataract. As far as conventional treatment for cataracts, surgery is the only option. However, there are some complementary approaches to support your vision if you have cataracts or other vision issues.
Prior to considering surgery for cataracts, many people choose to maintain a nutritional program to support eye health. Since cataracts are almost never an emergency, it is possible to do this for several months or even years before deciding about surgery. Simple dietary and lifestyle measures you can take to support your vision include the following.
- Decrease calories
- Reduce or eliminate sugars (particularly refined sugars)
- Drink six to eight glasses of water per day throughout the day
- Eat foods high in antioxidants
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
- Avoid exposure to radiation (such as leaking microwaves)
- Use 100% UVA/UVB sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes when outside. Amber colored lenses are the best as they also block out blue light. The lenses being polarized is also helpful.
- Avoid steroids if possible (they block the normal metabolism of connective tissue, and the lens is composed of connective tissue.)
Even if these recommendations have no effect on your cataracts, it is very likely that they will increase your overall health and support a smooth recovery from cataract surgery.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cataracts are often seen as a symptom of imbalance primarily in the kidney meridian, though other meridian imbalances may be involved. An experienced TCM practitioner should be able to make recommendations for you. Acupuncture and/or acupressure may also be part of the treatment.
More About Nutrition
Most nutritional approaches to cataract prevention and reversal include eating foods high in antioxidants. An antioxidant is a substance that reduces damage due to oxygen and free radicals. Some of the more well-known antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. Foods high in antioxidants include tomatoes, turnips, oranges, garlic, onions, beans, vegetables, seaweeds and berries.
These may not be foods you are used to eating, at least not in any significant quantity. If you eat out often, one enjoyable way to get more antioxidant-rich foods into your diet is to visit ethnic restaurants. At an Indian or Ethiopian restaurant, for example, you can find lots of unique vegetable dishes. Oriental restaurants and sushi bars can offer you a seaweed salad. Mexican restaurants make frequent use of beans and tomatoes.
For even more antioxidant power, you may want to take supplements. Learn more on our Cataracts page.
It can take several months to evaluate the effectiveness of natural and complementary approaches. However, since cataracts generally progress so slowly, this is not usually a problem. And you may be pleased at the side benefits gained through nutrition and lifestyle improvements!
If you do decide to have cataract surgery, you may be glad to know that according to the American Optometric Association, cataract surgery is one of the safest surgical procedures and has a high rate of success.
About Cataract Surgery
During cataract surgery, the natural lens of the eye is removed and is usually replaced with an artificial lens. (In rare cases, glasses may be used rather than lens implants.) The procedure is generally done with minimal sedation and local anesthesia and takes about an hour. However, you will need to arrive well in advance of your procedure, and you will not be able to drive yourself home.
Initial recovery from cataract surgery takes only a day or two and may involve protecting your eye with a patch. Since this will impair your depth perception, you should arrange for help in those initial days. Follow-up care is necessary for 6-8 weeks to guard against infection and make sure healing is complete. This may include daily eye drops and additional exams. Also, some people find it takes that long to adjust to the new lens.
Most people report a significant improvement in their vision and a new appreciation for their visual environment following cataract surgery.
For more information about cataracts, visit Natural Eye Care’s Cataracts page.
American Optometric Association: Cataract Surgery http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/cataract/cataract-surgery?sso=y
Natural Eye Care: Natural treatments for minor cataracts
Eye Health Statistics at a Glance Compiled by American Academy of Ophthalmology
National Eye Institute: Facts about Cataracts. https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts