Skip to main content

June is Cataracts Awareness Month. UNC Ophthalmology joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) this month in spotlighting an ocular disease that affects 25 million Americans of advancing age. UNC Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology Rodolfo Bonatti, MD, is a specialist in medical and procedural treatment of cataracts. Dr. Bonatti offers his expertise as a guide for aging adults to learn more about this vision-worsening condition and how it’s treated.

Q&A with a Cataracts Specialist

What exactly are cataracts? As the leading cause of reversible blindness worldwide, cataracts are a significant health concern for adults of advancing age. The CDC reports that over 17% of Americans over 40 will have at least one eye affected by cataracts. That number that rises to 70% by age 75.

Inside our eyes, we have a special kind of lens that helps us see both near and far. Around age 40, the lens proteins start to break down and clump together, making the lens stiffer. Eventually, this process will cloud the lens and reduce vision; this is called cataracts. Everybody will have cataracts if they live long enough, but some conditions can accelerate the process.

How do health behaviors influence development of cataracts? Research shows the influence of lifestyle and health behaviors on cataract formation. Excessive sunlight exposure, smoking, and long-term use of steroid medication can accelerate the process. Medical conditions like diabetes and other eye diseases also play a role. However, it’s important to note that there are ways to slow down cataracts, putting some control back in your hands.

A healthy diet may reduce the risk of cataracts and delay their formation and progression. Research suggests that a diet high in vitamin C-rich foods — citrus (oranges, kiwi, lemon, grapefruit), bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) — helps slow the progression of cataracts. How can we know if someone has cataracts?
When should I get screened for cataracts? All adults should visit an eye specialist for a comprehensive exam by age 40. This exam will detect cataracts and screen for other age-related eye diseases that can cause blindness. Cataracts cause slow and progressive vision loss, and by age 65, a routine eye exam is recommended every year. Cataracts should be removed when the blurriness compromises the quality of life and normal function.
How are cataracts treated? The treatment for cataracts is surgical. The old blurry lens is removed from the inside of the eye, and a new artificial transparent lens is placed in its place. The good thing about cataract surgery is that we can correct the patient’s prescription at the same time. The patient should discuss the ideal new lens for their eye with their ophthalmologist.

All asymptomatic adults need to have a comprehensive eye exam by age 40. Call UNC Kittner Eye Center at 984-974-2020 to schedule a first-time comprehensive eye exam with a faculty ophthalmologist or optometrist who will screen for cataracts, among other ocular diseases. If your screening detects cataracts, make an appointment with Dr. Bonatti at 984-974-2020, or visit UNC Ophthalmology’s clinical faculty page to note our other cataract specialists. To learn more about degenerative and vision-worsening eye diseases that affect senior adults, visit the AAO’s Eye Health Information for Adults Over 65 page.