The American Academy of Ophthalmology is urging seniors and their caregivers to be aware of the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of cataracts, a leading cause of visual impairment that will affect more than half of all Americans by the time they are 80 years old.

Delaying diagnosis and treatment of age-related cataracts can increase seniors’ risk of permanent blindness and can lead to both physical and psychological damage.

Cataracts are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye and are most common among older adults as the condition develops as the eye ages. Many seniors cope with cataracts – accepting vision loss as an inevitable part of the aging process rather than seeking medical treatment.

Due to the incapacitation caused by blurred vision, leaving cataracts undiagnosed and untreated can lead to physical danger such as injuries from falls or running into unseen objects, as well as psychological harm like depression and social isolation.

In addition, the longer advanced forms of cataracts are left untreated, the more difficult it can be to successfully repair the damage caused to the eye.

Adults age 65 and older should have regular eye exams to monitor for the development of cataracts, in addition to other common eye conditions and diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. People with diabetes, a family history of cataracts, and those who smoke tobacco are at an increased risk of developing cataracts. Common symptoms such as dull, blurry vision, colors appearing less vibrant, and halos around lights, may begin to be noticeable as cataracts develop.

Cataracts are nearly always treatable with surgery, but it may not be necessary until performing daily activities becomes difficult. If daily life isn’t disturbed, a change in a person’s eyeglass prescription may be all that is necessary until visual impairment becomes more severe. If completing everyday tasks is challenging, cataract surgery should be discussed with an ophthalmologist − a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions.

“Seniors who find themselves giving up normal tasks like reading, exercising or driving due to cataract symptoms should know that they do no not need to suffer in silence,” said Rebecca Taylor, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

“Cataract surgery can help these individuals regain their sight and their independence. It is one of the most common and safest procedures performed in medicine, so seniors should not resist seeking help. Getting treatment can vastly improve your quality of life.”

For people without regular access to eye care or for whom cost is a concern, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers eye exams and care at no out of pocket cost to qualifying seniors age 65 and older through its corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists across the U.S.

To learn more about EyeCare America or to find out if you or a loved one qualifies for the program, visit www.eyecareamerica.org.

EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc., with additional support from Alcon and Genentech.

For more information on cataracts and other eye health information, visit www.geteyesmart.org.

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