Harrisburg, PA Almost everyone who lives a long life will develop cataracts at some point.

As more Americans live into their 70s and beyond, we all need to know a few cataract basics: risks and symptoms, tips that may delay onset and how to decide when it is time for surgery so good vision can be restored.

August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology encourages Americans to know their risks, especially people who have diabetes, smoke or have a family history of cataract.

"Cataract surgery is a very common procedure, with a success rate of more than 95 percent," says Joanna Fisher, MD, the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology's (PAO) secretary of Public and Professional Information.

"The eye's natural lens with cataract is removed and replaced by an intraocular lens (IOL), selected to meet each patient's vision correction needs. Talk with your eye M.D. about IOL options and related use of eyeglasses, so together you can select the best IOL for you."

A few simple tips will help you maintain healthy vision and make the right choices if you develop a cataract.

Get a baseline exam if you're over 40. As part of the EyeSmart™ campaign, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) and EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, recommend that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline screening exam at age 40 the time when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur.

During this visit, your eye M.D. (ophthalmologist) will advise you on how often to have follow-up exams. People of any age with symptoms or risks for eye disease, such as a family history, should see their eye M.D. to determine a care and follow-up plan.

Know your risk factors. In addition to having a family history of cataract, having diabetes or being a smoker, other factors can increase your risk of developing a cataract.

These include extensive exposure to sunlight, serious eye injury or inflammation and prolonged use of steroids, especially combined use of oral and inhaled steroids.

Reduce your risks. Use UV-rated sunglasses when outdoors and add a wide-brimmed hat when spending long hours in the midday sun.

One of the best things anyone can do for their eyes and overall health is to quit smoking or never start.

People with diabetes can reduce cataract risk by carefully controlling their blood sugar through diet, exercise and medications if needed.

Be informed about when to consider surgery. This decision is really up to each person based on his or her daily activities and related vision needs. The concept that the cataract is "ripe," or ready, is no longer considered a valid reason for surgery.

After age 65, most people will see their eye M.D. at least once a year, where they will have their vision tested and learn whether cataracts are growing.

But only an individual can determine whether symptoms like glare, halos, blurriness, dimmed colors or other cataract-related problems are making activities like driving and reading difficult or impossible.

The academy's consumer guide to cataract surgery offers more information.

Talk to your eye M.D. When preparing for surgery, you will need to give your doctor your complete medical and eye health history, especially including whether you are or have taken Flomax®, Hytrin®, Uroxatral® or Cadura®.

These medications can cause the iris to move out of its normal position, which can lead to complications during cataract surgery.

You can still have successful surgery if your surgeon knows you have taken these drugs and adjusts his or her surgical technique.

If you have had LASIK or other laser refractive surgery, it's important to provide your presurgery vision-correction prescription to your eye M.D., if possible. (The record of this prescription is also called the "K card.")

About cataracts: As we age, the eye's lens slowly becomes less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Then areas of the lens become cloudy; if left in place until the "overripe" stage, the cataract would be completely white and block vision.

Cataracts often develop in both eyes at about the same time. By age 75, about 70 percent of people have cataracts.

For more information on cataract and IOLs, visit www.geteyesmart.org.

EyeCare America is a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. It promotes annual eye exams for people 65 and older, raises awareness on age-related eye diseases and facilitates access to eye exams and up to one year of care at no out-of-pocket cost for those who qualify.

EyeCare America is designed for people who:

Ÿ Are age 65 and older

Ÿ Are U.S. citizens or legal residents

Ÿ Have not seen an ophthalmologist in three or more years

Ÿ Do not belong to an HMO or the VA

For information on no-cost care, visit www.eyecareamerica.org. Find an eye M.D. in your area by visiting www.paeyemds.org.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology has been working to preserve and protect vision and eye health for Pennsylvania's citizens since 1943.

With member physicians throughout the commonwealth, the PAO strives to be the voice of ophthalmology; making efforts to ensure quality eye care on the legislative and regulatory fronts, while building and maintaining relationships with major insurance carriers within the state.