As is the case with most eye problems, early detection is critical to preserving your sight. The month of June is recognized as Cataract Awareness Month, an effort to raise awareness of the risks, symptoms, and treatments related to a condition that affects more than 24 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and is one the world’s leading causes of blindness.

“A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of iFocus Vision Center in Las Vegas. “This can lead to blurred vision and the appearance of a milky white spot in the eye.”

Dr. Velasco sees a number of patients afflicted with cataracts, and while the condition largely impacts senior citizens, those 65 years old or older, persons as young as 40 can develop cataracts, and doctors have even reported finding cataracts in children and newborn babies.

How Do Cataracts Form?

Although the exact cause of cataracts has not been identified, it’s believed that a chemical change within the eye is responsible for the cloudy appearance of cataracts. Just like any other eye disease, you can greatly reduce your chances of developing cataracts if you understand the major risk factors.

1. Avoid UV Radiation

“Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and other sources is a major risk factor,” Dr. Velasco says. “One of the reasons why June is Cataract Awareness Month is so we can remind families that sunglasses are essential when you’re outdoors.

“When it’s summer, everyone wants to spend time in the sunshine, but you need sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.”

2. Know Your Family Vision History

Hereditary factors can affect your vision in many ways. Knowing your family’s eye health history – knowing which of your family developed cataracts, and when, for example – can help you and your eye doctor create a plan for preserving your vision.

3. Stop Smoking

“As if smoking didn’t do enough damage to your heart and lungs, it’s a major contributor to cataracts, not to mention macular degeneration and other diseases,” Dr. Velasco explains. “The toxins in cigarette smoke can get into your eyes and if a cataract forms, it will feel like you’re looking through a blurry cloud of smoke every day.”

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity can all increase the risk of cataracts forming in your eyes. Excess blood sugar is often to blame, but Dr. Velasco says maintaining a healthy weight while engaging in moderate exercise can help you ward off disease induced cataracts.

How Do You Treat Cataracts?

As cataracts worsen over time, they will start to impair your vision and the way you are able to perform daily tasks. While many people with cataracts are able to get by with a prescription, surgery is necessary in many cases to help restore sight. In these cases, Dr. Velasco works with an ophthalmologist to co-manage the treatment and recovery process.

“The success rate is very high for patients who choose cataract surgery,” she says. “The surgeon will replace the affected lens with an artificial intraocular lens, and I will work with patients to ensure no complications, such as inflammation or infection, arise following the surgery.”

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Velasco, call 702-473-5660 or book an appointment online via the iFocus Vision Center website.