My office is located in an area where there are a lot of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospices. As such, I diagnose quite a bit of cataracts and macular degeneration on a day-to-day basis.
As I write the referral to the ophthalmologist for a cataract surgery or treatment for macular degeneration, I’m reminded that while my patients have a general understanding that these diseases affect their vision, they often want to know exactly what happens inside of their eyes and why I’m referring them for treatment.
What’s a Cataract?
We were all born with a lens in each of our eyes that helps us to focus the light going through. A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens to a yellowish opaque one. Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.
Treatment is in the form surgery to extract the cataract and replace it with a clear artificial lens.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration or “AMD” is a largely age-related progressive disease of the macula (the central part of the retina, in the back of the eye) that eventually damages your central vision. When suffering from advanced AMD, your straight-ahead vision would suffer but your peripheral vision would be unaffected.
Treatment involves shots to the eye, laser surgery, and taking certain vitamins to slow down the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure.
There are some common threads between Cataracts and Macular Degeneration:
- Ultraviolet light - from the sun or digital devices - accelerates both cataract growth and the progression of Macular Degeneration
- Age plays a role in both diseases, since both cataracts and AMD are age - related
- Poor diet like eating fried foods, processed foods, and foods high in sugars accelerates both eye diseases
The three factors above are the ones mainly responsible for causing and worsening both eye diseases. Unfortunately, we can’t help natural age–related changes. But, wearing good sunglasses and computer glasses, exercising, and eating the right foods go a long way to help.
Vitamins Can Help Both Cataracts and AMD
In terms of vitamins, Vitamins C, E, and A are especially helpful to both eye conditions, as are Lutein and Zeaxanthin. A more detailed explanation of how vitamins help with eye conditions, is found in the blog, “How Vitamins Help Promote Better Eye Health.”
It is worthy to note that the macular has a yellowish color, which is due to the Lutein and Zeaxanthin that are contained within it. The replacement of these two carotenoids in the macula (by vitamins or foods rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin) helps prevent AMD. This is because they help to filter out blue light which is responsible for causing damage to the macula.
It is theorized that when a cataract forms and becomes that characteristic yellowish opaque hue, it is protecting the macula by giving back that yellow color that helps to block blue light and preserve macular function.
Putting It All Together
As you can see, Cataracts and Macular Degeneration share certain common traits that are both causative and treatable. UV rays, age and poor diet help to cause both diseases while certain vitamins, exercise and eating foods rich in Lutein, Zeaxanthin help to slow down the progression.