FRIDAY, Aug. 29, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Cataracts -- the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States and the world -- affect more than 22 million Americans aged 40 and older, says Prevent Blindness America.
Each year in the United States, about $6.8 billion is spent on direct medical costs for outpatient, inpatient and prescription drug services for cataracts, according to a study funded by the group, which has designated August as Cataract Awareness Month. It's projected that more than 30.1 million Americans will have cataracts by 2020.
With more cases than glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, cataract is the most common age-related eye disease. Cataract, a clouding of the eye's lens, is caused by the build-up of old cells. Symptoms include blurred or double vision, sensitivity to strong light, or the perception that lights seem too dim. People with cataract may have a noticeable milky or yellow spot in the eye.
"Cataract is something that most of us will develop at some point in our lives. The key is to understand what we can do now to help protect our vision in the future," Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, said in a news release from the organization.
Age is the major risk factor for cataract, but there are several other possible risk factors, such as:
- Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun.
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes.
- Inflammation in the eye.
- Long-term steroid use.
- Eye injuries and eye diseases.
- Pre-birth factors, such as German measles in the mother.
Surgery to remove cataracts has a 95 percent success rate and is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States. Each year, about 3 million Americans have cataract surgery, according to Prevent Blindness America.
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about cataracts.