Cataracts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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A cataract is a dense and cloudy area that forms in a normally clear lens of the eye. The lens is mainly made out of water and protein, and cataract begins when the proteins form clumps. It then results in things looking foggy, hazy, blurry, or less colorful.

The lens is located behind the iris, the colored part of our eye. Typically, light passes through a clear lens. The lens also focuses the light on the retina, sending the image to the brain through the optic nerve. However, if you have a cataract obstructing the lens, your eye can’t focus light the same way. It also prevents the lens from sending clear images to the retina. Hence, the blurry or foggy vision.

Most people get cataracts when they are 40 years old and above. However, infants and young children can also have it because of a congenital disability, medications, or trauma. Unfortunately, many don’t notice the symptoms of cataracts until they are over the age of 60.

What Causes a Cataract?

Numerous underlying causes and factors contribute to the development of cataracts. Here are some of them:

Aging

The most prominent cause of cataracts is aging. That is because the normal eye starts changing after the age of 40. This change includes the proteins breaking down and hanging around the eye, which then causes the lens to get cloudy or opaque. That’s why cataract is common in older people.

Nutritional Deficiency

Studies (but have inconclusive results) suggest an association between low levels of antioxidants and cataract formation. Some of these antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, and carotenoids. Moreover, there are also further studies showing that antioxidants can help reduce the chance of developing cataracts.

Diabetes Mellitus

People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing cataracts.

Drugs

Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, can cause cataracts. In addition, chlorpromazine and some phenothiazine-related medications used to treat conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are said to have the same effect.

Ultraviolet Radiation

Studies show that people with unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation have increased cataract formation.

Alcohol

Several studies show that patients with higher alcohol consumption have an increased cataract formation compared to people with no or lower alcohol consumption.

Family History

Having a close family relative, like parents, brothers, or sisters who had cataracts, increases your chance of getting one through genetics.

Additional factors that cause cataract formation include smoking, spending an ample amount of time under the sun without eye protection, trauma, having eye surgery, and experiencing an eye injury.

What are the Symptoms of Cataract?

Cataracts form at a slow rate, but they are a part of the eye’s aging process. Common signs and symptoms of a cataract may include the following:

  • Clouded, foggy, blurry, hazy, or filmy vision
  • Double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to bright lamps, headlights, or sunlight
  • Increased sensitivity to glare, seeing a halo around a light, especially when driving at night with oncoming headlights.
  • Reduced-intensity of colors
  • Changes in the refractive eye error, or eyeglass prescription; which includes sudden nearsightedness
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Need brighter light to read

Even though cataracts develop slowly, they will eventually interfere with your vision. Moreover, it can develop in both of your eyes. However, it does not usually progress simultaneously, and the other eye may be worse than the other.

How are Cataracts Treated?

Cataracts vary in size and where it is located, which then affects the visual impairment they cause. Moreover, they can also be factors in identifying the severity of the disease. Thus, resulting in determining the appropriate treatment for you.

There are cases of a cataract where it does not or only minimally affects the vision. These cases may not require any treatment at all. However, patients are advised to monitor if they experience additional visual symptoms. Moreover, they are also required to follow a regular check-up schedule.

In some cases, doctors change the eyeglass prescription of the patient to provide temporary vision improvement. Moreover, if the patients have a problem driving, especially at night, due to glare, there’s an anti-glare coating available to put in your eyeglasses. If some patients have a problem reading, adding another light source can be beneficial.

There are several cases where the cataract progresses to the point it hinders the person’s ability to perform their everyday task. Surgery may be needed when this happens. Around 25 million people in the US require cataract surgery, and even more so around the globe.

A cataract surgery includes taking out your lens and replacing it with an artificial one. The artificial lens significantly improves vision, and it does not need aftercare. Moreover, some artificial lenses have the natural focusing ability of a young and healthy lens. Furthermore, once a cataract is removed, it cannot grow back.

The Bottom Line

A cataract is a severe disease that should not be treated lightly. You cannot prevent a cataract from happening, and doctors cannot predict when you’re going to develop it. However, you can prevent it by reducing your exposure to sunlight or wearing eye protection if you’re going out. You can also stop smoking or decrease your alcohol consumption. Most of all, it is best to stay vigilant of cataract symptoms and consult your doctor if you’re experiencing one.

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