News / 

More than 20 million Americans have cataracts

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.


Schaumburg, Ill. ( 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, according to Prevent Blindness Americas 2002 Vision Problems in the U.S. report. By the year 2020, 30.1 million Americans in this same age group will have cataracts, as stated in a follow-up research study published in April 2004. Cataract, a clouding of the eyes lens, is the leading cause of low vision among Americans, contributing to half of all cases.

Although most cataracts are related to aging, babies can be born with congenital cataracts. They can also develop in early childhood, in one or both eyes. If the cataracts get large enough, the lenses may need to be replaced through surgery. Cataracts generally do not cause pain, redness or tears, although sometimes there may be a milky or yellowish spot in the center of the eye. Generally, people need surgery when the cataract causes enough vision loss to interfere with daily activities, said Daniel D. Garrett, PBA spokesperson.

Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in people age 65 and older. Surgery is the only treatment for cataract. Although risks of cataract surgery are small and the success rate is 95% in the U.S., Americans do pay a price for their cure $3.4 billion each year in Medicare costs alone.

A new type of intraocular lens, the Crystalens, was approved by the FDA in November 2003. The silicone lens has tiny hinges on the sides and moves with the eye muscles (just like the natural lens). It's the first intraocular lens to restore the ability of cataract patients to see both near and far. While the lens may not provide 20/20 vision, studies show about 98% of patients receiving the Crystalens can read, drive or use the computer without glasses.

The following are common risk factors for cataract:

Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun: PBA recommends choosing sunglasses that block 99-100% of both UV-A and UV-B rays. A wide brimmed hat will block about 50% of the UV radiation that might enter the eye around glasses. It is very important to protect childrens eyes, as the damaging effects of UV rays are cumulative extended exposure over many years will increase your risk of cataract later in life.

Smoking: Cigarette smoke is known to contain substances that interfere with the eyes antioxidant defense mechanisms. Research has shown that the more you smoke, the greater your risk of cataract. Fortunately, studies also show that you can reduce your risk of cataract by kicking the habit.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a much younger age. Given the rising prevalence of diabetes worldwide, people should do everything they can to avoid developing type 2 diabetes. Obesity is not only a risk factor in developing diabetes, but may increase the risk of cataract by two-thirds.

Long-time steroid use: Steroids given orally, intravenously or topically (eye drops) have been shown to increase the risk of cataract. Inhaled steroids commonly used to treat asthma and some allergies, taken for more than three years, also increase the risk of cataract.

Eye Injuries: Physical injuries, such as a blow to the eye, a cut, burn, puncture, or exposure to intense heat or cold, can lead to cataract formation. The best way to avoid eye injuries is to wear proper eye protection while playing sports or using power tools, and keep dangerous products away from children. Childhood eye injuries can lead to cataract and glaucoma later on in life.

In celebration of Cataract Awareness Month, PBA is offering free cataract brochures and fact sheets by calling 1-800-331-2020.

© Health News 2004 All Rights Reserved.

Most recent News stories


Catch up on the top news and features from, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast