We all have a natural lens in our eyes. When this lens bends, light rays enter our eyes and allow us to see. For normal vision, the lens should be clear but when a cataract develops, this lens becomes cloudy. The result: Your vision is unclear and as the cataract grows, you lose more vision.
This is normal for people over 40 and is the chief cause of blindness.
The lens focuses light on the retina to provide clear vision. It also adjusts the focus of the eye, allowing us to see clearly, both nearby objects and distant ones. The protein content in the lens is set in a way to keep it clear and allow the passage of light through it.
However, with age, this protein may form clumps and cloud our vision in a small part of the lens. This is a cataract which grows with time, clouding more of the lens and making it more difficult to see.
Cataracts can also be caused due to these reasons:
- Physical Injury: If your eye has been punched, or there’s been a cut or puncture, or if you’ve experienced an electric shock
- Medication: If you have taken corticosteroids to treat inflammation
- Unhealthy Nutrition: If your diet does not contain Vitamins A (beta carotene), C and E, antioxidants and selenium
- Radiation: Perhaps, you have been exposed to UV radiation for a long time or for treating head and neck cancers.
- Diabetes and Diabetic Retinopathy: If you already suffer from these diseases, you could develop a cataract too.
- Hereditary: Not only can cataracts be congenital, but they are also hereditary.
- Smoking: Whether you’re a smoker of 20 cigarettes or more a day or inhale second-hand smoke, you run the risk of developing a cataract.
- Uveitis and Other Eye Diseases: The inflammatory disease, Uveitis, affects the inner eye. Not only is it due to uncontrolled inflammation, but also due to extended period use of high-dose corticosteroids.
- Trauma: If the eye is injured, it could lead to a cataract.
- Other Reasons: These include undue exposure to UV light and heavy smoking.
Types of Cataracts
There are several types of cataracts, such as:
- Age-Related Cataracts: As the name suggests, these cataracts form in old age.
- Congenital Cataracts: When babies are born with cataract due to injury, infection or poor growth and development, or in childhood, they are called congenital cataracts.
- Secondary Cataracts: Medical conditions like diabetes bring on cataracts. Cataracts are also due to being in the environment of toxic substances. They are also due to hormone replacement therapy, obesity, taking statin medicines to lower cholesterol levels, hypertension, high strength of myopia and family history.
Initially, a cataract might not affect your vision at all. However, as it grows, your vision will begin to be blurred and hazy. Other symptoms include:
- Short-sightedness in seniors
- Double vision in the eye with a cataract
- Difference in your interpretation of colour
- Problems with night driving, such as glare from oncoming traffic
- Inability to face the glare in daytime
- Trouble using spectacles or contact lenses
Diagnosing a Cataract
In order to find out whether you do, in fact, have a cataract, your doctor will first go over your symptoms and medical history. He will then perform an eye test, followed by several other tests. These are:
- Visual Acuity Test: With the help of an eye chart, the doctor can see how well you read a sequence of letters. He will test each eye while keeping the other covered. The chart contains a sequence of letters beginning from large-sized letters to very small. The doctor will determine if your vision is 20/20 or if it is impaired to some extent.
- Slit-lamp Examination: Using a slit lamp, the doctor will see all the structures in the front part of your eye duly magnified. This microscope is also known as a slit lamp because it works with strong slit of light which illuminates all parts of the eye. He also sees these structures in small parts which enable easier detection of small defects.
- Retinal Exam: For this exam, the doctor will put some drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils. In this state, your retina is easier to examine. Again, the slit lamp is used to examine the lens for any cataract development.
- Surgery: There are surgical and non-surgical or lifestyle cures for cataracts. However, the more popular is the former. Doctors generally recommend surgery when a cataract prevents you from performing your daily chores comfortably. Your doctor may also recommend it when a cataract interferes with other eye problems you may have and their treatments.
- Phacoemulsification: This is the name of the surgical method that uses ultrasound waves to break open the lens and remove its pieces.
- Extracapsular Surgery: Here, the hazy part of the lens is removed by making a slit in the cornea. A synthetic intraocular lens then replaces the natural one.
Overall, surgery is very safe and successful. Patients are allowed to go home on the day of the surgery.
A natural sign of ageing, a cataract results in blurred vision which keeps growing. Usually, cataracts do develop, but there are ways of delaying their progression and the consequent requirement for surgery.
Here are some methods of preventing the development of a cataract:
- Shielding Your Eyes from Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation
It’s necessary to shield your eyes from the harmful glare of UV radiation. You can use a scarf for this or even polarized sunglasses or photochromatic glasses. This is necessary as UV radiation raises the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Smoking raises the risk of cataracts, caused due to the ill-effects of setting off free radicals in the body. It also increases the risk of cataract development and progression by three times.
- Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels
An increase in blood sugar levels automatically helps develop a cataract. If you don’t manage your blood sugar levels and suffer from diabetes, you will have cataract at a much younger age. So, work hard to have your glycemic index under control.
Trauma at any age can result in a cataract. So, take care so that you do not have any eye injuries by wearing protective eyewear such as eye shields, glasses, etc.
- Don’t Take Steroids Unnecessarily
Though steroids are life-saving drugs, yet their blatant use has caused certain problems. Steroids should be used only on a doctor’s recommendation and extremely judiciously.
Though the prevention of cataracts is highly debated, yet it has been found that they can be prevented by taking nutritional supplements and certain foods over a prolonged period. For instance, one study found that by taking Vitamin E and carotenoids such as zeaxanthin and lutein, the chances of developing a cataract could be lowered.
Vitamin E can be sourced in almonds, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables, and in sunflower seeds. Vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids can also lower the risk of cataracts. These are found in oranges, lemons, limes, papaya and strawberries. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, tuna and other fish.
If you follow these few prevention methods, you can stave off a cataract from developing and marring your sunset years. For more help and guidance on this subject, speak to the experts at Eye Consultants.