633rd MDG keeps an 'eye' on cataracts

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason J. Brown
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the 633rd Medical Group here is striving to ensure Airmen and their families know the scoop on cataracts.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens, the part of the eye that focuses light and produces clear images. Inside the eye, the lens is contained in a capsule. Over time, old cells die and accumulate inside the capsule, causing the lens to become cloudy and decrease the sharpness of one's vision.

Three types of cataracts are:

-- Nuclear cataracts, which are located in the center of the lens. The nucleus tends to darken, changing from clear to yellow and sometimes brown.

-- Cortical cataracts, which affect the layer of the lens surrounding the nucleus, and have a trademark wedge or spoke appearance. 

-- Posterior capsular cataracts, which are found in the back outer layer of the lens. This type of cataract typically develops more rapidly.

In early stages of cataract development, increased lighting and a stronger eyeglass prescription may lessen vision problems. However, surgery may eventually be needed to correct the problem if it becomes worse.

Cataracts are a natural result of aging in most people,  said Maj. (Dr.) Lisa Mihora, 633rd Surgical Operations Squadron ophthalmologist. Traumatic eye injuries and diabetes have also been known to cause cataracts.

"Most of our cataract surgeries are performed on older patients, such as retirees," she said. "We have treated younger, active-duty personnel for cataracts resulting from trauma."

Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the U.S., said Dr. Mihora. More than 90 percent who have cataract surgery regain useful vision.

During the surgery, doctors make an incision in the side of the cornea, the clear outer covering of the eye, in order to remove the natural lens. The natural lens is then replaced by a plastic lens, called an intraocular lens.

While the surgery comes with risks, those experiencing symptoms indicative of cataracts should schedule an appointment with their optometrist as soon as possible, Dr. Mihora said.

There are several ways to help prevent or slow down the development of cataracts. Using sunglasses to defend against ultraviolet rays, especially during long summer days, may stave off cataracts, among other possible eye injuries.

"Most people lather up with sunscreen and wear a hat in the sun, but few people actively think to protect their eyes from intense ultra-violet rays," said Maj. (Dr.) Michael Osterhoudt, of the 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "Especially in children, extra care needs to be taken to keep eyes safe from the sun."

In addition to eye protection, researchers have linked a variety of nutrients to reducing the risk of cataracts, including:

-- Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in green leafy vegetables and eggs.

-- Vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables.

-- Vitamin E, found in nuts, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes

-- Essential fatty acids.

·-- Zinc, which is vital in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in eyes.

For more information about cataracts, visit the National Eye Institute's cataracts web page here.