Everything you need to know about – Cataracts
It is believed that more than 70% of 70 year olds have cataracts! Of course, not all of those require treatment and they aren’t something to come along in one single day, however, as they develop over many years. In fact, if we live long enough, we will probably all get cataracts eventually.
What are cataracts?
A cataract is the gradual clouding of the lens inside our eye, to the point where it begins to effect vision. In reality the lens in our eye, which grows throughout life, gets bigger and denser and cloudier as we grow – it’s a normal part of the ageing process. This means that the lens of the average 10 year old is very clear, the lens of a 30 year old is a little cloudier, and at 50 it’s cloudier again. The progressive cloudiness doesn’t usually affect vision until around our seventies or beyond, although it can happen earlier.
There are cases of babies being born with cataracts, when the lens in the baby’s eyes is malformed. If the cataract is dense enough, and is severely blocking light entering the eye, then getting them removed is a priority. Without removal, the visual system in the brain will not develop properly and the child will have permanent impaired vision.
Aside from being born with the problem, some cataracts can be drug or medication induced, with cases of severe illnesses also hurrying the lens clouding process. Some cataracts can be induced by trauma, such as a blow to the eye or an eye operation. For most of us, however, if we get cataracts over the age of sixty they are simply age related.
As the eyes get older and cataracts develop, the lenses get browner in colour, which may then be called brunescent cataracts. The vision through such lenses is considerably browner than normal, although the sufferer doesn’t realise it because it changes gradually over many years.
Cataract formation and lens cloudiness does not always occur across the lens at the same rate. Often the cloudiness occurs at the edge of the lens and grows towards the centre. Others types start at the centre and grow to the edge. Whatever type a patient has, the greatest loss of vision occurs when the centre of the lens, along the visual axis, is affected.
Treatment is easy these days. Cataract operations are one of the single most common operations in the western world. The operation to remove them is relatively straightforward and is very successful – the technology to remove cataracts is getting better everyday, with the complication rate reducing too.
A cataract operation involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens. When planning a procedure like this it is also possible to incorporate the spectacle prescription into the implanted lens, so that any short-sightedness or long-sightedness can be reduced at the same time. It is common for patients to reduce their need for glasses considerably.
In fact the operation to replace the lens in the eye, can be done without a cataract being present as the internal pressure of the eye reduces and protect against the eye disease glaucoma. It can also be done to reduce the need for spectacles for those who are especially long-sighted or short-sighted.
The most notable comment from people who have cataracts removed, apart from having much clearer vision, is how much bluer the world seems and how much brighter all colours become.
We should remember how lucky we are. The single most common cause of blindness in the third world is cataracts; but cataracts are not a cause for blindness at all in the Western World. All for the sake of a minor procedure, usually taking about 20 minutes, many people in such poverty could be rescued from blindness.