What Are Cataracts?
A cataract is a cloudy patch that develops in the lens of your eye. The lens becomes progressively opaque, preventing light from reaching the back of your eye, resulting in blurred or cloudy vision.
Who it Affects
Cataracts are the primary cause of impaired vision worldwide and are almost an inevitable consequence of ageing. It’s important to note that although cataracts do appear to be age related this does not mean that younger people don’t get cataracts. Although rare, babies and children may also develop the condition.
While cataracts are occasionally the result of eye injury, eye disease, metabolic changes or congenital abnormality, the cataracts which accompany ageing are very much the most common variety.
The cause of age related cataracts is not known; however it is likely that as with all other age related chronic degenerative diseases the fundamental change is at a cellular level, as a result of free radical damage, this oxidative inflammatory damage being compounded by the oxidation by sunlight passing through the lens of the eye which as a result becomes cataractous.
Several factors can increase the risk of developing cataracts, including a family history of cataracts, a diet lacking in good nutrition, prolonged exposure to sunlight without adequate UV protection, smoking, a high consumption of alcohol, certain health conditions such as diabetes and long term uveitis (eye inflammation).
Cataracts cause various forms of visual impairment. The early symptoms of cataract formation are usually slowly progressive, one eye often developing a cataract before the other.
An individual may feel that their sight is not “quite right” in a way that can be difficult to describe; they may feel their glasses need cleaning or need to be changed, which may indeed be necessary as an early cataract can alter their glasses prescription; a visit to an optician is always helpful for advice.
As the sight becomes increasingly cloudy other commonly noted symptoms include needing more light to read smaller print, objects appearing more yellow, the dimming of colours and discolouration, a change in one’s ability to see contrast, double vision, cloudy or blurry vision, bright lights and car headlights appear more dazzling.
Distortion is not likely to occur, however if distortion is noticed it may indicate the onset of macular degeneration.
Your ophthalmologist or optometrist may conduct several tests, including: taking a medical and ocular history, carrying out a visual acuity test (using a chart or a viewing device with progressively smaller letters), checking eye movements and pupillary responses, measuring the pressure inside the eyes and examining the front and back of the eyes after the pupils have been dilated with drops.
If you are only mildly suffering from cataracts, using brighter lighting or changing your glasses can be helpful. However this is only a temporary solution and does not fix the underlying problem, which will only worsen over time. Eventually treatment will be required especially when the cataract(s) starts to affect everyday life. The right time to have the age related cataract removed is when it interferes with everyday activities. It’s no longer necessary to wait until the cataract has ‘ripened’.
Cataract removal is the most successful major operation performed today, but with any surgery there is always the risk of complications: risk of complications with cataract surgery is very small. After successful surgery, when the eye in all other respects is healthy, the improvement in sight is usually dramatic. The artificial lens implanted to replace the cataract can be selected to suit the individuals’ eye with the added benefit that previous long or short sightedness is eliminated.
Any co-existing eye disease such as the very common condition of age related macular degeneration should be detected before removal of the cataract. A cataract can be removed even when there is macular degeneration but if you are suffering from macular degeneration you should be warned that your resulting eyesight will be less than perfect.
Prevention of Cataracts
Due to the likely role of free radical damage in both cataract formation and age related macular degeneration it is prudent to ensure a diet rich in good quality fresh fruit and vegetables to provide the antioxidants needed, both before and after cataract surgery.
It is also advisable to wear sunglasses after cataract surgery as the protective effect of the natural lens of the eye (which was removed as a cataract) has been lost and the ageing macular will be more at the mercy of ultra-violet rays.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle such as performing exercise, wearing eye protection when exposed to sunlight, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking is also likely to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
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- Age-related cataracts: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cataracts-age-related/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Facts About Cataract: https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts