More than 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with cataracts every year. However, even with its prevalence, there are still many misconceptions about what cataracts are, how they are caused, and how they can be treated. Some people with early cataracts symptoms may even develop a more severe condition because of their lack of knowledge about the disorder at its warning signs.
This June is Cataracts Awareness Month, a month dedicated to learning about, understanding, and supporting those who experience cataracts. Continue below to learn more about the disorder as well as different ways to seek help and treatment.
What is Cataracts?
“Cataracts” is both the name of the disorder as well as the condition that causes it. A “cataract” is an area of clouding on the lens of the eye that affects vision, typically by blurring eyesight. This effect is similar to the effect a droplet of water may have on a camera lens when taking a picture.
Cataracts are caused by clumped proteins that work to help filter light through the lens of our eye. Once proteins irregularly clump together (called a cataract), they can attract more incorrectly-placed proteins and distort a large portion of vision. This is most common in aging people (whose proteins are more prone to clumping) as well as people who smoke, have diabetes, or have many years of heightened sun exposure.
While the majority of cataracts are age-related, there are different forms related to other causes. Traumatic cataracts, for instance, develop in response to a severe eye injury or to radiation, sometimes not popping up until year after the incident. Congenital cataracts, on the other hand, are present in babies or develop during childhood, normally in both eyes. Regardless of cause, most cataracts are handled in the same fashion.
Warning Signs and Treatment
Because cataracts are caused by a simple protein malfunction, it is extremely difficult to predict who is or isn’t more prone to getting cataracts. As far as preventative measures go, the best way to avoid cataracts is by doing what most doctors recommend to avoid any general disorder: eating healthily, exercising, staying vigilant with health issues, and keeping your body and mind healthy and safe.
Outside of prevention, consider speaking with your doctor if you start to notice any of the following problems:
- cloudy or blurry vision
- faded or tinted colors
- bad glare or intensified brightness from lamps, headlights, or sunlight
- especially poor night vision
- multiple images or double vision in one eye
- decreased effectiveness of eyeglass/contact prescriptions
- visible clouding in one or both eyes
If you exhibit any of these symptoms, it is best to speak with your doctor about being tested for cataracts or other eye disorders. things like visual acuity tests, tonometry tests, or eye dilation can be used to diagnose this.
Thankfully, treatment for cataracts is better now than it has ever been. For minor cataracts, simple prescriptions of corrective lenses or magnifying lenses can be used. For those with more severe symptoms, cataract surgery can be performed to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial one. This surgery is one of the most common operations in the United States, takes less than an hour, and has an extremely high success rating.
Qualifying for Disability Benefits with Cataracts
For those whose cataracts have proven untreatable by normal means, working or living your normal life may become difficult or impossible. In this case, it may be wise to look into applying for Social Security disability benefits. These benefits provide monthly funds to those with severe disabilities, including those with severe cataracts.
To see if you may qualify, you can consult the Social Security Blue Book, which lists all SSA-approved disabilities. Cataracts has the potential to qualify under Section 2.00: “Special Senses and Speech” under a variety of vision-based listings. If your eyesight, when measured with a variety of tests, shows an unnaturally-low rating of visual acuity, visual field, or loss of visual efficiency, then you may qualify for disability benefits. Before applying, speak with your physician to get visual testing done and compile medical records/test results to include with your application.
If you or a loved one lives with cataracts, it is important to know that there is always help available to you should you need it. Websites like VisionAware and Cataracts Family provide information, resources, and support group sessions around the countries to those affected by cataracts. If you are interested in applying for disability benefits, you can also speak with a local Social Security representative for more information on the application. Disability attorneys may also be helpful, knowledgable resource during the disability benefits process — to see if an attorney may be right for you, you can schedule a free consultation at your earliest convenience.