DR. HOOK- See here: Cataracts make the whole world cloudy

Claude Monet's paintings make me feel like I'm at a picnic in a park in Giverny on a beautiful spring day with brie, rosemary bread, pinot noir, and a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Sorry, it is my comfort food— didn't mean to ruin the moment.) 

 Sounds perfect, doesn't it? I wish I could paint— even if I were painting the dismal future like that artist on the show Heroes.

Anyway, poor Monet. Supposedly he suffered from cataracts, and as his career went forward, his paintings became more fuzzy– like Paris Hilton's vision when she's clubbing. Beethoven lost his hearing as a musical composer; Monet lost most of his vision as a painter.  (God forbid I should lose my singing voice as a master of show tunes!) But in both cases, these artists were so great that they were able to produce incredible works despite their disabilities. God gave them lemons, and they made lemon drop martinis. If Monet had clear vision, would I experience something different with his paintings— such as the ants crawling all over my peanut-butter sandwich?

Cataracts affect about 30 million Americans. And as you can see, it can make vision cloudy— unclear like Britney Spears' ex-husband's future. Driving can be very difficult for those who have cataracts.  Sometimes when I'm lazy on a frosty cold morning, I don't heat up my windshield. When I turn left onto the first street in my neighborhood and the glaring sun greets me, I feel like Julia Roberts and George Clooney together on the red carpet at the Oscars: blinded by the light! 

The word cataracts comes from the Latin word "catarractes" which means waterfall. ("Don't go chasing waterfalls, stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to"— go TLC!) The white foam and turbulent water in the waterfall are what the lens of an eye with a cataract looks like. So if you look into someone's pupil and see a white haze, they aren't stoned— it's a cataract.  

The lens of the eye refracts light to bring things into focus, just like the lens of a camera. The lens is made of special skin cells, but unlike our skin that exfoliates every day, dead cells of the lens don't slough off. No microderm abrasion, no facials, no loofah. And as people get older, this can mess things up and lead to cataracts. 

Night-time driving is the worst because the glare of the oncoming headlights is like the FBI cross-examining a suspect under a bare light bulb. But even the sunlight can be very painful to the eye in some types of cataracts. Reading small print can be hard, and it's really a bad idea to drive if cataracts make road signs hard to read. 

Smoking doubles the risk of cataracts. UV-B rays from the sun, diabetes, steroids, lead, and eye trauma can all increase the risk of cataracts. But besides not smoking, there really aren't ways to prevent cataracts. Wearing UV-protection sunglasses and eyeglasses might help, but we don't have proof right now. (But at least you can look like Lindsay Lohan with great sunglasses.)

Ophthalmologists treat cataracts by surgical lens transplants. (Remember ophthalmologist is harder to spell and is the MD.  Optometrist is easier to spell and is the OD. Hope that helps you remember how to distinguish them.)

Maybe one day there will be a non-surgical cure for cataracts or a way to prevent them. If the solution to this problem becomes clear to you, you could make a ton of Monet.

Got a medical question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!