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Cataracts can happen to anyone, here’s how to protect your eyes

Some may see sunglasses as a chic accessory to round out an outfit or something to casually sport on a summer drive. But their purpose is more about eye health than most think, including their role in preventing cataracts.

A recent survey by the Canadian Ophthalmological Society shows 38 per cent of Canadians don’t know much about cataracts, an eye condition which currently affects over 2.5 million Canadians, or how to prevent them.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye. The most common cause is overexposure of UV rays, which change proteins in the film.

“Much like the risk of skin cancer, it’s often a thing that develops as a result of exposure over many, many years,” Dr. Phil Hooper, president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, told 680 CJOB’s The Start.

Some cataracts can form slowly. Others related to medical conditions like diabetes or the use of prednisone can form in just a few short years. The change can be slow or sudden, Hooper said.

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“People often notice it most, or initially rather, when they’re driving at night and they start to see halos around lights. They may have difficulty in focusing in dim light,” he said. “It’s usually a low-light situation that people first become aware of.”

Cataracts often appear as a yellow or milky film over the eye that reduces the its ability to focus. They can also lead to vision loss.

“People aren’t even aware of it developing until it really starts to affect vision,” Hooper said.

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While cataract surgery can be a “real success story” in treating the condition, prevention is the best medicine.

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Much like sunscreen on a cloudy day, Hooper said sunglasses should be worn even when the sun isn’t shining to prevent the risk of cataracts.

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“If we block the blue and ultraviolet rays from the sun, we can slow… (the) process down,” he said.

The society’s survey showed only one third of respondents said their children wear sunglasses during the summer months.

Hooper said sunglasses should be worn from a young age and worn often.

“You need the protection all the time.”

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