By David Mallory, M.D.

    Cataracts cause 50% of all the blindness in the world. This problem is likely to worsen in the future as the number of older people in the world's population markedly increases. In the United States alone, it is projected that the number of persons age 55 and over will increase 85% in the 50 years between 1980 and 2030.

    The risk of cataracts at age 70 is 13-fold that at age 50. The largest, longest, and most intensive medical study of any population in the United States was done of the whole town of Framingham Massachusetts. Among 2,477 people in this study, mild to severe lens clouding (cataracts) were found in 42%, 73% and 91% of persons age 52-64, 65-74, and 75-85, respectively. Age-related cataracts (no other cause found), decreasing vision, were found in 5% of people age 52-64, 18% of persons 65-74, and 46% of persons age 75-85. Increasing age is by far the strongest known risk factor for cataracts.

    Age is not the only predisposing factor to the development of cataracts. Cataracts are 3-4 times more common in people who are diabetic. Fifty-six medications in current use have been recorded to have some cataract causing effects. Steroids taken by mouth over months to years are the most likely drugs to cause cataracts.

    Heredity can be the main factor. There is often a "genetic anticipation," where cataracts in successive generations appear at earlier ages. Several studies have shown that people with increased ultraviolet exposure have a higher incidence of cataracts. Heavy cigarette smoking and poor nutrition have also been implicated in causing cataracts.

    Fortunately, the treatment for a cataract which interferes with a person's ability to function as they wish is excellent. With modern ultrasonic removal of cataracts and intraocular lenses which have higher resolution power than did our own lens at any time in our lives, there is a 98% chance people will see better after cataract surgery.

David Mallory, M.D. specializes in the treatment of cataracts on an outpatient basis.

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