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Cataracts - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cataracts - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cataracts is a term given to the medical condition where there is misting or hazing of the lens in your eye. Here, we look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment for this eye condition.
Prerna Salla
Last Updated: Jan 21, 2018
Cataracts lead to poor vision and in some cases, even blindness. But in most cases, this condition can be remedied by a fairly minor operation.
Symptoms
Patients often complain about blurred vision, which is because the eye's lens becomes opaque. Some patients also complain about glares and reduction in contrast in their vision. There are complaints of reduction in the ability to differentiate between colors. From external inspection, doctors can see that there is clear clouding of the lens in some cases.
Causes
The most common cause of cataracts is biological aging. The proteins present in the lens degrade as the age progresses. UV radiation, gene expression also compounds the symptoms as the person gets older. Hypertension, a common problem seen in old people can aggravate the condition.
Injuries to the eye, such as blunt trauma can cause swelling and whitening of the lens. The swelling usually subsides but the whitening remains, clouding the vision.
Radiation in the form of ultraviolet rays, microwaves, and X-rays also causes cataracts. Ultraviolet rays, especially UV-B are the main contributors to this eye condition. The radiation coagulates the proteins present in the lens, similar to the coagulation of the egg albumin where it becomes white after cooking.
Chromosome abnormalities can also cause cataracts. Certain genetic disorders may lead to lens defects.
Smoking is also seen as a major cause of cataracts. It has been shown to double the chances of a person to have this medical condition.
There are still other conditions that affect your system as a whole for example, diabetes, that is linked with a higher risk of developing a cataract. Certain drugs, including corticosteroids, if not administered accurately may increase one's chances of developing cataracts.
There are some rare instances where babies are born with cataracts (congenital cataract). In this case, it is very important that it gets detected early for the baby to develop normal vision.
Diagnosis
Cataract is usually diagnosed by your ophthalmologist or optometrist. They use an elaborate apparatus called a slit-lamp for examining your eyes. The lens, which starts off as clear at birth may develop areas that are cloudy. Sometimes the cataract makes it difficult to see the back of the eye properly. A visual acuity test is generally recommended to gauge how well the patient is able to see.
Treatment
The effective treatments deal with removing the cloudiness of the lens. A process known as phacoemulsification is the most common treatment for cataracts. In this process, the eye is numbed with the help of local anesthesia in the form of simple eye drops. Then, two cuts are made in the cornea. A needle is used to create a small hole in the lens capsule. A probe that emits ultrasound waves is used to break up the lens. This dissolved emulsion is sucked away and simultaneously a saline solution is pumped in to prevent the collapse of the outer structure. A plastic foldable lens is then inserted in the capsule. Antibiotics may be injected after the procedure, to prevent any infections.
If the cataracts are very hard and emulsification becomes difficult using ultrasound, a procedure known as Extracapsular Cataract Extraction is performed. Here, most of the lens is taken out leaving the capsule intact. An artificial lens is then inserted and the capsule is sutured where the incision was made.
The post-operative recovery period is short. The patient is cautioned against lifting heavy weights, and is advised to wear an eye shield for a couple of weeks.
Prevention
Wearing glasses that filter UV rays can delay the onset of cataract formation.
Although researchers claim that consumption of antioxidants prevents cataracts, recent studies do not endorse this claim.
If you smoke, and it is a habit, you need to break it.