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

August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO) is encouraging seniors and their caregivers to understand cataract risks, symptoms, and prevention tips, as well as how to decide when it is time for cataract surgery so good vision can be restored.

Cataracts are the most common causes of vision loss. In fact, by age 75, about 70 percent of people have cataracts. However, cataracts typically develop slowly, so symptoms may not be immediately apparent. Over time, cataracts can cause vision to become blurry, cloudy dim, or dull not unlike looking through a dirty car windshield. These symptoms may interfere with daily activities. The good news is that cataracts are treatable with cataract surgery.

"Cataract surgery is a very common procedure with great success rates," says Roger Zelt, MD, PAO president. "As an ophthalmologist, it's always a pleasure to help our patients see better, so we encourage cataract patients to talk with their ophthalmologist about cataract surgery options."

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

Ÿ Get a baseline exam if you're over 40. PAO recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline eye exam at age 40 the time when early signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur.

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

Ÿ Know your risk factors. Having a family history of cataract, having diabetes, and being a smoker can increase your risk of developing a cataract. Additionally, extensive exposure to sunlight, serious eye injury or inflammation and prolonged use of steroids, can increase your risk of developing a cataract.

Ÿ Reduce your risks to prevent or delay the onset of cataracts. Use UV-blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats when spending time outdoors to protect your eyes from UV damage. Don't smoke. People with diabetes can reduce cataract risk by carefully controlling their blood sugar through diet, exercise and medications if needed.

Ÿ After age 65, schedule regular eye exams. Anyone age 65 and older should be seeing an ophthalmologist regularly in order to detect any eye diseases or conditions early, and to monitor any vision loss.

Ÿ Know your options for cataract surgery. Each person may have different considerations when weighing his or her options about cataract surgery. Symptoms such as glare, halos, blurriness, dimmed colors or other cataract-related vision problems can make daily activities like driving difficult or impossible. Talk to your ophthalmologist about surgery options.

Ÿ Talk to your eye doctor. When preparing for surgery, you will need to give your doctor your complete medical and eye health history, including whether you are taking 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 pre-surgery vision-correction prescription (K Card) to your doctor, if possible.

For more information on eye health, cataract and surgery options, visit www.geteyesmart.org.