A cataract is a gradual clouding of the lens of the eye. This condition generally occurs in older people, but it can occur in younger age groups, as well. The tissues of the eye become less flexible, thicker and less transparent as people age. The clouding increases gradually until it begins to affect normal activities. Surgery is then necessary to improve vision.
What Are Cataracts
Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. A normally clear eye allows light to pass to the back of the eye. When a part of the lens becomes opaque, the light does not pass through freely and images become blurry. This blurriness is described as being like looking through a fogged window or cloudy water. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes, and one side can be more severely affected than the other. The blurriness can affect safe driving, particularly at night.
What Causes Cataracts
The development of cataracts usually occurs as people age. About 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have some degree of clouding of the lens of the eye. At 75 years of age, the percentage rises to 70 percent. Cataracts can also be congenital, that is, they are present at birth or shortly after birth. Older babies and children can also have developmental or juvenile cataracts, in which a particular gene is responsible for the condition.
Other Risk Factors for Cataracts
If you have close relatives that have had cataracts, you have an increased risk of developing them. Those people with diabetes also have an increased risk of cataracts. Certain workers exposed to ionizing radiation, such as pilots, have a higher risk of developing cataracts. In addition, those workers who are exposed to lead over a long period of time have a higher risk of development of cataracts. People who are exposed to bright sunlight continuously are also at risk. Patients who take corticosteroid medications over a long period of time also increase their risk of having cataracts. Those with previous eye injuries or inflammation may have a higher risk factor for cataracts.
Surgery is the only recognized treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery shouldn’t be confused with LASIK surgery. LASIK surgery reshapes the cornea and is idea for focusing disorders like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. In the case of cataract surgery, this surgery may be done with a general anesthetic, when the patient is completely unconscious, or with local anesthetics, when the patient is awake but is numb to any pain but unaware of the operation. Before the operations, a nurse will dispense eyedrops into the eye in preparation for surgery. The anesthetist will discuss the type of anesthesia with you to answer questions. In the operating room, the skin around the eye is cleaned and a sterile drape placed around the face. Then, the surgeon removes the cataract. This operation is generally done with a laser surgery device. After the clouded lens is removed, an artificial lens is carefully inserted into the eye to replace it. This artificial lens is carefully selected to fit your eye, using measurements that are done pre-surgery.
Can You Prevent Cataracts?
Though physicians are not certain why cataracts develop, they do know that you can reduce your risk of developing them by certain lifestyle changes. If you smoke, get into a smoking cessation program or talk to your doctor about cessation drugs to help you quit. Smoking is a known factor for the development of cataracts. Have your eyes checked regularly to keep your eyes healthy. Wear sunglasses whenever you are outdoors in bright sunlight. Take care of other health conditions you may have. Diabetes and other medical problems can increase the risk of cataracts. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants that can help your eyes stay healthy. This diet includes plenty of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins. A healthy diet will also help you to maintain a healthy weight.