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Cataracts awareness month : What you need to know

Eyes
(Photos: Shutterstock)
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An argument could be made in favor of sight being the most important and most used sense in the human body. From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, our sight is needed to achieve most of our daily tasks.اضافة اعلان

It is normal for eyesight to worsen as we age, but for the most part, our vision stays mostly intact. However, with cataracts, there is an increased chance of total blindness if not addressed.

In Jordan, a 2006 study conducted over three years (2001–2004) found that cataract was the leading cause of blindness. The prevalence rate was as high as 49.8 percent for cataracts, surpassing glaucoma (15.7 percent) and a common diabetic complication known as diabetic retinopathy (13.6 percent).

In honor of June being cataract awareness month, below are some tips on how to spot cataracts, the treatments, and preventative measures.

What are cataracts?
Our eyes are complex organs that can convert waves of light into electrical impulses that are then interpreted by the brain into useable information. To do this, the eye has to first focus the light through the use of the lens — a transparent, biconvex structure that sits behind the iris (the colored part of your eye).



Similar to how a magnifying glass focuses light from the sun into a single point to start a fire, our eyes, or the lenses, focus the light into a single point in order to hit the retina (the portion of the eye that converts light into electrical impulse).

What makes the eye lens incredible is its ability to automatically focus light based on depth; to do this, the lens must remain flexible to adjust for near or far images.

In cataracts, the eye’s lens becomes cloudy, which ultimately reduces the amount of light passing through. Additionally, the lens may also begin to stiffen, further reducing vision.

Without treatment, this condition can worsen to the point of blindness.

Types of cataracts
In most cases, cataracts disease is age-related and quite common in older individuals.

In the US, it is estimated that over half of the population has cataracts or has undergone surgery for it by the age of 80. Despite this, cataracts can still occur in younger people, but typically due to less common causes.

The three most common types are nuclear cataracts, cortical cataracts, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.

Generally speaking, the development of cataracts is multifactorial. Naturally, as we age, the proteins in the eye’s lens begin to break down and clump together. In doing so, it will ultimately cause a loss in the lens’s transparency. These clumps of protein can also become pigmented, further obscuring vision. Additionally, the lens can also stiffen due to fibers growing from the outer ring of the lens.

Nuclear cataracts develop over the years and affect the center of the lens. Nuclear cataracts are characterized by the formation of yellow haze and stiffening in the central portion of the lens. As the condition progresses, the cataract can change from yellow to brown. Due to the stiffening of the lens, individuals will become nearsighted (unable to see far away images).

Common symptoms for this type of cataracts are objects seeming blurry at a distance, colors becoming less vibrant (although the change is so gradual that it is often not noticed), poor vision at night, and glare.

Cortical cataracts develop due to the fibers on the outer portions of the lens becoming opaque. As a result, this form is generally seen as white, wedge-shaped streaks circling the outer part of the lens.

The effects on eyesight vary amongst individuals and depend on how closely the opacification comes to the center of the eye.

Compared to nuclear cataracts, cortical cataracts can develop more rapidly in the span of years or even months. The most common symptom of cortical cataracts is glare, although some may also develop nearsightedness.

Poster subcapsular cataracts (PSC) is one of the more aggressive forms of cataracts. PSC develops more rapidly than other forms and is the more common type seen in younger individuals than others.

This type of cataracts occurs due to opacities that form on the backside of the lens. Unlike the aforementioned types of cataracts, PSC often results in farsightedness. Other symptoms include glare and difficulty seeing in bright light.

Some people may be born with cataracts which cause it to develop during childhood. These are known as congenital cataracts.

Cataracts can also develop due to an underlying cause, including diabetes and glaucoma. Similarly, certain medications, such as prednisone, have also been linked to cataracts. Environmental or trauma-associated causes such as radiation treatment for cancer are also related to the development of cataracts.

Who is at risk?
Age is the most common cause of cataracts and is an unavoidable risk factor. However, some risk factors may be more modifiable.

In terms of lifestyle choices, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption have been associated with cataracts. Similarly, high sun or ultraviolet exposure may also increase risk.

Since other diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes have been associated with an increased risk of developing cataracts, many risk factors are shared. This includes high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Treating and preventing cataracts

Cataracts on their own do not increase mortality but can severely impact the quality of life and daily functions such as reading or driving. In some cases, the progression of cataracts may stop growing, but it will not go away on its own.

Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no medication that is used to treat cataracts, and surgery is seen as the only option. But, surgery is typically reserved for those whose daily life is severely impacted (i.g., blindness).

There are different forms of surgery for cataracts, but they are generally regarded as a safe procedure with a high success rate (as high as 90 percent). Sometimes, surgery may not be feasible, and in these cases, symptoms can be managed through prescription-strength glasses to help adjust for far or nearsightedness. Sunglasses or seeing glasses with anti-glare filming may also help.

To prevent cataracts, we need to reduce the risks associated with the condition. It should be noted that cataracts are a multifactorial condition that can depend on factors that are not always modifiable. Thus, some can still develop cataracts despite taking all precautions.

Nevertheless, wearing sunglasses while outdoors can high reduce your risk, particularly those that protect your eyes against UVB rays. Additionally, regular consumption of vegetables and fruits that contain antioxidants may help prevent cataracts. Modifying your lifestyle to include smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy body weight, and controlling other diseases will help in reducing your risk.


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