Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world. There are several causes of cataract, including age, exposure to ultraviolet radiation and injuries to the eye. It mostly develops in people who are aging, but can affect people of all ages, including newborns.
The loss of vision can be a stressful experience, especially since much of the human experience is dependent on sight. Knowing more information about cataracts, how they form and how they are treated can help cataract patients explore their options.
What Is a Cataract?
Cataract is a disease of the lens of the eye that causes vision to worsen over time. The lens of an eye affected by cataract becomes clouded and light can no longer penetrate the eye to be processed by the retina.
What Causes Cataract?
The most common cause of cataract is aging. Factors such as ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, pollution, toxins and other harmful elements in the environment have a cumulative, damaging effect on the eyes’ health. The proteins and other substances in the eyes that keep them healthy also tend to degrade over time, especially in people with health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Injuries to the eyes can also cause cataracts to form. Injuries that involve blunt force to the eye or that pierce or cut the eye can cause the tissue of the lens to swell and eventually scar. Healing eye injuries tend to turn white or cloudy. When this happens, light cannot penetrate through the eye to be projected onto the retina, which is the part of the eye where visual processing occurs.
Whether a person is predisposed to develop cataract largely depends on their genetics. The eyes’ health and ability to heal and recover from environmental damage and injury is directly affected by heredity. Some chromosomal conditions like Turner’s syndrome and physical conditions like eczema also influence the development of cataracts.
Can Cataract be Prevented?
Research on preventing cataracts is mostly inconclusive. Some researchers have suggested that quitting smoking and abstaining alcohol can help prevent the development of cataracts while others say that these activities have a negligible effect on cataracts.
Wearing sunglasses to prevent eye damage from UV-B radiation that is present in sunlight may be effective in preventing cataracts.
How Is Cataract Treated?
Cataract is most commonly treated with surgery. During cataract surgery, an ophthalmologist will remove the damaged, clouded lens from the affected eye and replace it with a plastic lens. This type of surgery is usually performed fairly quickly, and some doctors can even perform it in their private eye clinic, rather than in hospital operating rooms.
Recovery from cataract surgery usually does not take more than a few weeks. Some people can even see better the first day after their procedure. Cataract surgery is typically successful, with most people’s vision significantly improved. About 90 percent of people who receive cataract surgery regain 20/40 vision, vastly improving their quality of life and allowing them to enjoy the pleasure of sight again.