June is National Cataract Awareness month. Were you aware? I was not, but I should be better informed, as I’m no stranger to vision problems. I have worn glasses since the fourth grade and can’t see worth a darn without them. When I headed off to college I got contacts so I could (theoretically) meet cute guys, since glasses hadn’t yet become associated with fashionable hipsters and gazillionaire tech wizards.
Contacts turned out to be tough since my eyes were too dry; I’d go through bottles of eye drops like a fiend. Once I got married and we acquired a house and a dog and a baby, I ditched the contacts in a defiant burst of trying to simplify my life. (Right. Did I mention the house and dog and baby?) Anyway, I went back to glasses and enjoyed being able to see without the red swollen eyes of the tear-impaired. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had floaters and flashers, and a brief bout of optic neuritis at one point. And my near-sightedness means I’m at higher risk of a detached retina, just in case I didn’t have anything to ponder at 4 a.m. when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.
And now I come to find that I could have even more to worry about in the future. The Prevent Blindness organization (www.PreventBlindness.org) recently published a study, “Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems”, which reports that nearly 25.7 million Americans ages 40 and older have cataract, a clouding of the eye’s lens which blocks or changes the passage of light into the eye. This number is expected to increase by 50% — up to 38.5 million people – by 2032 and up to 45.6 million by 2050. While most cataracts are due to aging, they can also be congenital or caused by eye trauma, exposure to radiation, even some medicines or diseases (including diabetes). Most cataract patients today are women. More cataract patients today are white although the study indicates that this trend will level off and actually decrease by 2040. According to the study, Hispanics will exhibit the fastest rate of growth in cataract cases.*
Whew. Those are some scary projections, but the good news is that, with proper eye care, vision loss due to cataract can be restored. Learn more at www.preventblindness.org and see your eye-care professional regularly. Even if you don’t currently wear glasses, eye exams should be part of your health maintenance routine.
One more thing you should know. Because eye care is an essential part of wellness and good health, ophthalmology is one of the many specialty on-site clinics provided at the Mercy Health Clinic. Two volunteer ophthalmologists are part of the MHC volunteer provider team, and patients are examined using the same modern equipment you’d find at any ophthalmology office. What’s more, the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind sends an optometrist twice a month to do diabetic retinopathy screenings. As a lifelong “four eyes”, I’m thankful for these generous volunteers and sponsors who help Mercy patients maintain their eye health and vision.
— Pam Saussy, Board Member