What is Cataract?

Symptoms, causes and treatment

Cataract is a frequently occurring eye condition that results in the clouding of the lens, leading to vision problems such as blurry or dim vision. While the natural aging process is the leading cause of cataracts, there are other factors, like genetics, diabetes, and prolonged exposure to UV radiation, that can also possibly increase the risk of developing cataracts. Symptoms of cataracts include difficulty reading or seeing in low light, double vision, and sensitivity to glare.

 

Surgical intervention is the most effective form of treatment to treat cataracts. It involves removing and replacing the cloudy lens with an artificial intraocular lens. Advanced surgical techniques, such as laser-assisted cataract surgery, can enhance the procedure’s precision and safety. Diagnosing cataracts involves a comprehensive eye exam performed by an eye doctor or ophthalmologist, including a dilated eye exam and other specialized tests. In some cases, early cataracts can be managed with changes in eyeglass prescriptions or brighter lighting, but ultimately surgery is required for full restoration of vision.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

The symptoms of cataracts gradually develop with time and mostly affect the elderly. Blurred vision, sensitivity to light and glare, trouble seeing at night, and a need for greater light when reading are some noticeable symptoms of cataracts. As cataracts progress, vision may become more cloudy, colors may appear faded, halos around lights, and double vision may occur in one eye. In the critical stage, vision may become severely impaired, making it challenging to perform daily activities such as driving or reading. Cataracts don’t hurt or cause redness, but if they aren’t treated, they can seriously impair your eyesight.

What causes cataracts?

The primary cause of cataracts is age-related changes in the lens part of the eye, which causes it to become less flexible, less transparent, and thicker over time. Other factors contributing to cataracts include exposure to UV radiation, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and certain medications such as corticosteroids. The occurrence of cataracts may be hereditary in some cases, i.e. they run within the family. While some factors leading to cataracts may be unavoidable, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, wearing sunglasses, and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce the risk of developing this condition.

Types of Cataracts

There are numerous types of cataracts, each having a unique characteristic and cause. The most common types of cataracts are:

Age-related cataracts: Age-related cataracts are the most commonly occurring type. They gradually develop over time due to natural changes in the eye’s lens. The proteins and water that make up the eye’s lens are structured in a certain way to keep the lens clean and allow light to flow through. These proteins may start to group together as we age, making the lens clouded and obstructing vision. UV light exposure, smoking, and certain medicines are other variables that contribute to the onset of age-related cataracts. Age-related cataracts typically develop slowly in both eyes and progress over several years, eventually leading to significant vision impairment if left untreated.

Congenital cataracts: Congenital cataracts are present at birth and can be caused by various factors, including genetics, infections during pregnancy, or other medical conditions. Congenital cataracts may appear as a clouded or opaque spot in the lens and may affect one or both eyes. Depending on the location and severity of the cataract, it may cause vision problems ranging from mild blurring to complete blindness. Early detection and treatment are important to ensure the best possible outcome for infants born with congenital cataracts, as delays in treatment can lead to permanent vision loss or other complications.

Traumatic cataracts: Traumatic cataracts are a type of cataract that may develop following an eye injury, such as a blunt force trauma or penetrating injury. The trauma can cause physical damage to the eye’s lens, resulting in a clouding or opacity that impairs vision. This kind of cataract may appear right away following the damage or it may take months or years.

Secondary cataracts: Secondary cataracts are a common type of cataract that can form as a complication of other eye conditions or surgeries. For example, glaucoma or retinal detachment surgeries can cause the development of secondary cataracts in some patients. Secondary cataracts can also be more likely to develop in people with certain medical problems, such as diabetes or long-term steroid usage. These cataracts typically develop at the back of the lens, causing blurry vision and sensitivity to bright light.

Risk for cataracts?

Despite the fact that cataracts are common, several risk factors might make them more likely to occur. Age is a primary risk factor, as the natural aging process causes changes in the lens of the eye that can lead to cataract formation. Other risk factors include a family history of cataracts, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, prolonged exposure to sunlight, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Long-term use of steroid medications and certain eye surgeries may also increase the risk of cataracts.

Cataracts can significantly impact a person’s quality of life by causing blurry vision, difficulty reading, and sensitivity to light. They can hinder regular functionality and the performance of daily activities like driving, reading, and even recognizing faces. Cataracts can ultimately result in blindness if neglected.

How are cataracts diagnosed?

The eye specialist or Ophthalmologist can detect cataracts by performing a thorough eye examination. The doctor will assess your visual accuracy and examine the internal structures of your eye using specialized equipment, such as a slit-lamp microscope. Subsequently, a dilated eye examination would also be performed to obtain a better view of your lens and other eye components.

The doctor may also employ various other diagnostic tests, like visual acuity, to evaluate your ability to see varying distances. A contrast sensitivity test may also be utilized to determine your ability to distinguish between different shades of light and dark. If the doctor suspects cataracts, they may order additional tests, such as a lens exam along with eye drops, to determine the severity and location of cataracts. This test employs a specialized camera to capture detailed images of your lens and surrounding structures.

What is the treatment for cataracts?

The surgical excision of the clouded lens is the most common and efficient therapy for cataracts. This outpatient procedure is conducted using local anesthesia. During the eye surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision in the eye and employs ultrasound energy to fragment the lens, which is then eliminated using suction. The surgeon then replaces the natural lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). The surgeon can choose from various types and powers of IOLs according to the patient’s specific needs.

Furthermore, several advanced surgical techniques and technologies can improve the safety and precision of cataract surgery. Laser-assisted cataract surgery is one such technique that uses a radiation treatment to create incisions in the eye and fragment the lens. The femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery employs a laser to perform the entire procedure effectively.

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