Cataracts effect roughly 50% of Americans who are at or older than 80 years old. One in two! Facts like that are equal parts startling and even a little bit comforting to know. Startling because that implies that roughly 150 million Americans suffer from this side effect of old age. Comforting because if and when it happens to me at least I’ll know I’m in good company. But you would think that if half of our octogenarians are experiencing cataracts, that the act of removing and treating them wouldn’t be an issue, and yet it is. Which is why August has been designated as National Cataract Awareness month.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which reduces the amount of light that can enter the eye, and this clouding increases over time if not treated and can result in complete blindness. The good news is that cataracts are almost always treatable with surgery and many times those who receive surgery can see better than before they even had cataracts. The bad news is that many Americans will put off cataract surgery until their sight is highly compromised, despite the reduced quality of life that cataracts cause. The reasons they put it off are usually relate to misconceptions about the surgery and subsequent healing period following the surgery.
That’s where awareness programs come in. Through campaigns that set up booths and kiosks in places that cater to older Americans, these programs aim to clear up the misconceptions related to cataract surgery, and increase the speed at with those dealing with cataracts undergo the surgery. Most of these programs are highly non-invasive and consist mostly of brochures about the process coupled with promotional items, like awareness ribbons or rubber bracelets, provided by local ophthalmologists. Removing the mystery of the surgery and making surgeons accessible to potential patients increases their likeliness of addressing the cataracts sooner, and restores their previous good vision to them sooner. And in a world this strange and beautiful, nobody who has the choice should ever miss a thing.