Fans of two-time Academy Award winning actress Olivia de Havilland delight in seeing her on the screen in such film classics as The Heiress, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Gone with the Wind. But until recently, Ms. de Havilland could barely see herself in the mirror. Cataracts had so diminished her vision that she was legally blind.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw a pink oval with a whitish halo around my head, and an indication of eyes, she recalls. When I applied my lipstick I could see my mouth.

Ms. de Havilland was hardly alone in her problem. Cataracts gradually cloud the normally clear lenses of the eye, causing vision to become blurry or dull. The condition is a leading cause of decreased vision, but fortunately treatable. In Ms. de Havilland™s case, outpatient surgery to remove her cataracts and insert intraocular lenses have restored her vision. Because she had cataracts in both eyes, her ophthalmologist, James Salz, MD, performed surgery on one eye and then waited until the first eye had healed before performing the second surgery. The results were dramatic. Ms. de Havilland™s vision is now 20/40.

One morning not long after my second surgery I looked in the mirror and was amazed to see my face in great detail, Ms. de Havilland says. Not only could I see my eyelashes, but I learned I had a furrowed brow”which was not welcomed news! She adds, jokingly, I also discovered that rather than a glowing white halo, I had hair, like regular people.

August is Cataract Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds those at risk for cataracts to see their ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) to determine if they have a cataract and whether it should be removed. The most common type of cataract is related to aging of the eye. Other risk factors include family history, medical problems (such as diabetes), injury to the eye and medications, especially steroids. More than 1.8 million people have cataract surgery each year in the United States, making it the most common surgery performed in the nation. More than 95 percent of those surgeries are performed with no complications.

Cataract surgery is one of the most successful procedures available for restoring a patient™s quality of life, says Dr. Salz, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southern California and a clinical correspondent for the Academy. Technological advances in recent years have made cataract surgery faster, safer, more comfortable and ultimately more effective. Ms. de Havilland™s case is typical, in that vision loss can be reversed in the vast majority of cases.

For Ms. de Havilland, whose luminous eyes have always enchanted moviegoers, the surgery has been a great success. As her experience shows, seeing an Eye M.D. to check for cataracts can be the first step to improved vision.

Because exposure to the sun increases the risk of developing cataracts, Americans of all ages can reduce their risk by using UV-protective sunglasses or contact lenses and hats when outdoors for longer than 15 minutes, even on cloudy days. Also, new research suggests that cataract risk may be reduced or deferred by eating plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables that contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

More information on cataracts and how to preserve vision, as well as how to access care, is available on the Academy-sponsored web site As part of the EyeSmart campaign, the 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 eye disease screening at age 40”the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur.

EyeCare America’s Seniors EyeCare Program

In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, EyeCare America encourages people to call its Seniors EyeCare Program. This national, year-round program offers eye exams and up to one year of care at no out-of-pocket cost to qualified patients who are without an ophthalmologist. People age 65 and older can call 1-800-222-EYES (3937) to determine if they are eligible to receive a referral for a free eye exam and up to one year of care. The EyeCare America help line operates 24 hours a day, every day, year-round. To supplement its award-winning referral program, EyeCare America has recently created a new website,, designed to assist online users in learning more about eye problems such as cataracts.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

AAO is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons”Eye M.D.s”with more than 27,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three O™s “ opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy’s Web site at

American Academy of Ophthalmology
Christina Curas, 415-561-8534 (Media Relations)