"Oh, this is a 'young woman's cataract', not an 'old person's cataract'," my cute couldn't-be-out-of-his-thirties-probably-not-even-wearing-readers-yet optometrist told me during my routine eye exam yesterday, right after he dropped that "C" word on me. Not the worst "C" word, it's true, but it was still a shock.
"I've never heard of a 'young woman's cataract'."
"Well, that's not really its name - I just made that up. I should copyright it!" He was pleased with himself. "But, it's pretty common. Really, it's not a big deal." I guess he could see I was the type to blow things out of proportion and panic.
Common, huh? I read More magazine plus several blogs that deal with women's midlife issues and I've never heard that cataracts might come visiting this early. Then again, those heart palpitations that came knocking in June (get it?) took me by surprise, too. Maybe I'm skimming over those articles and paying too much attention to the ones about hair and wrinkles.
The good news is my cataract is teensy-tiny, too small to affect my vision (yet). It's way too early for surgery. In fact, Dr. Cute is mostly just guessing it's a cataract right now after comparing my Optomap images over the past four years. A shadow cast on my lens has doubled in size, typical of the subcapsular type he suspects.
When my vision becomes so blurry that I feel like I'm walking through a Monet painting or a London fog, that means it's ripe and ready to be plucked out of there; if it continues growing at this same rate, for my 55th birthday, I'll be having cataract surgery!! I was hoping for a trip to Italy or Greece, but whatever. Vision is a wonderful gift, too, and as far as surgeries go, it's one of the easiest.
So what can I blame for this? There's got to be something!
Dr. Cute mentioned a few things, but I wanted something specific to blame, so I went to my friend Google for more information. Some of the culprits include: diabetes (no); high farsightedness (yes); diuretics and tranquilizers (no and no); smoking (a few weeks in 7th grade shouldn't count); pollution (I grew up on the Houston Ship Channel... 'nuff said.); heavy alcohol consumption (I wouldn't call it heavy!); lead exposure (not that I'm aware of, but then again, I grew up on the Houston Ship Channel); eating a lot of salt (no); and possibly hormone replacement therapy (no); using steroids over a long period of time, especially combining oral and inhaled steroids (yes - I've had asthma all of my life!); and finally, the two I think are really to blame... being a sun worshiper and not wearing my sunglasses like I should. Heck, I never wore sunglasses in high school. For some reason they messed with my vision or made me queasy or something. I always wear them now - I can't stand not to - but the damage was done years ago, I'm sure.
The good news is a diet high in antioxidants like I've been on for the past few years might forestall cataract development. Maybe I've slowed it down!
Ironically, August was Cataract Awareness Month. Besides wearing sunglasses and not smoking, the American Academy of Opthalmology recommends getting a baseline exam if you're over 40; younger if your family has a history of early cataracts.
So listen up, you 40-year-olds 30-year-olds 20-year-olds teenagers, start taking care of your eyes now! Don't smoke! Eat healthy, especially plenty of antioxidants!
And please, please, please learn from my mistake... wear sunglasses!