William Newland's career depends on his eyesight. He's been an airline pilot for 35 years.
"I can't fly an airplane unless I can see perfectly," he said.
But at 51, his vision became blurry.
"Like looking through a dirty glass," he said.
Newland is part of a growing number of patients diagnosed with cataracts-- a common condition in seniors. Clumps of protein cloud the lens of the eye. If left untreated, it could lead to blindness.
Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. More than 24 million Americans 40 and older have the condition. That's a 19 percent spike in the past decade.
The condition is almost always treatable with outpatient surgery that usually takes about 20 minutes. A doctor removes the eye's cloudy lens, and replaces it with an artificial lens.
"We can make the patient see often better than they've ever seen by correcting near sightedness or far sightedness or astigmatism or in some cases eliminate reading glasses," said Dr. James Salz, a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Doctors recommend all adults get a baseline eye exam by age 40. Annual eye exams are a must after 65. And know your risk factors: diabetes, smoking, too much sun exposure and a family history of cataracts can increase your chances of getting the eye disease.
Newland has had perfect vision in his right eye since surgery four years ago.
"It really reassured me that I was going to be able to continue in my career," Newland said.
But he's still keeping a close watch on his left eye, which also developed a cataract.
To help prevent cataracts, doctors recommend wearing sunglasses and hats to protect your eyes from UV damage.
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