A pair of studies done this year and in 2010 found the number of Iowans diagnosed with cataracts rose by five-percent in just those two years. Ophthalmologist Dr. Bonnie An Henderson says she doesn’t think there’s been any sort of outbreak that’s causing the lenses in Iowans’ eyes to cloud over. “People are living longer, they’re healthier, they’re more active,” Dr. Henderson says. “They are noticing that they’re having more symptoms earlier on and they may be having eye exams earlier and therefore, they’re being diagnosed with cataracts. I think the increase in diagnosis is one of the main causes why you’re seeing a higher statistic.”
While many perceive cataracts as being a disease that only afflicts the elderly, it can often appear in people as young as their 40s. Eating carrots or wearing sunglasses won’t have any impact either as there’s no way to prevent it, Henderson says, it’s just a part of aging. “People worry that if they’re looking at their computer, which, everyone now stares at their computer all day, they’re worried that looking at their computer increases the risk of developing a cataract and that’s just not true,” Henderson says. “Staring at the computer may be hard on your eyes for eye strain or dry eyes or headaches, but it does not cause cataract formation.”
After significant advances over the years, the surgery to have a cloudy, cataract-laden lens removed is now about a ten-minute procedure. Plus, Henderson says, the new lens that’s implanted can be modified to correct a patient’s other vision problems. “That lens actually decreases a patient’s dependence on glasses both for distance and for reading and there’s another lens for people who have astigmatism,” Henderson says. “It’s now become more of a refractive procedure as well as a medical procedure and it really helps the overall functioning and improves the quality of life.”
The survey found 15-percent of Iowans questioned in 2010 had cataracts while the figure rose to 20-percent in 2012. Henderson says the larger study found more than half of all Americans would develop cataracts by the time they’re 80, though she believes the figure is much higher and many people just don’t have the condition diagnosed.