Imagine living a life where you cannot see anything further than 10 feet clearly. When your vision of your loved ones and family members is constantly blurred. Welcome to the life of a cataract sufferer. This disease might start off as merely irritating, but it will soon evolve into a disease that affects not only your physical state, but your emotional state as well. The majority of people above the age of 80 have either had cataract surgery or suffer from reduced vision due to cataracts. If this all sounds fairly glum,
be cheered by knowing that there are steps you can take to drastically slow the development of cataracts.
It is not possible to completely prevent the development of cataracts; however, we can take steps to delay and reduce the process. Ultraviolet light has been proven to be a primary cause of cataracts, hence eyes should be protected from ultraviolet light by wearing sunglasses or a wide brimmed hat when outdoors. Our diet plays a role in all parts of our bodies, and the eyes are no exception. For good eye health, eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and fruits. Vegetables that contain high levels of antioxidants are recommended by eye care experts. Recent data by the University of Toronto state that Vitamin E supplements can play a major role in combating the onset of cataracts.
The word cataract is derived for the Greek word cataractous meaning ‘rapidly running water’. Cataracts begin to form when the lens covering the eye starts to deteriorate. This causes a reduction in clarity and the onset of blurred vision. The lens in the eye is located behind the iris and plays a crucial role in enabling the eye to focus correctly. When light enters the eye it passes through the lens and is focused onto the retina. From here it’s turned into electrical signals which pass through the optic nerve to the brain where the images are formed.
When a cataract is present, the lens becomes malformed, causing the light passing through it to become distorted. Imagine looking through the window on a rainy day when the water is just cascading down the glass. The image of the outside world becomes distorted in much the same way. Though cataracts usually affect both eyes, they are not contagious and cannot be passed from one eye to the next.
The lens is a simple construction of protein elements and plain water. There are certain proteins that are specifically responsible for preserving clarity of vision. As the body ages these proteins begin to change. This leads to the lens becoming less clear or cloudy, and the vision becoming blurred. Cataracts develop slowly over time and gradually grow as the body ages. For this reason some people are surprised to hear they have cataracts because they are unaware of the symptoms early on. At first, some people may not even realize there is a blurriness to their vision, and as it slowly progresses they often don’t notice the changes.
What causes cataracts? Some researchers believe too much exposure to ultraviolet light, smoking and diabetes are contributing factors. Other causes may include certain medicines, especially steroids, whether inhaled, topical or oral. In addition, long term use of the statin drugs or phenothiazines are believed to influence cataract development.
There are a variety of types of cataracts. They are based on the area where the affliction occurs. They include:
Infantile or Congenital Cataract: This type occurs during birth or early childhood and requires prompt surgery to correct the vision.
Nuclear Cataract: This is one of the most common types of cataract. It occurs when the center of the lens is the affected area.
Cortical Cataract: In this type, the outside edges of the lens are affected, causing the cortex of the lens to appear dirty.
Sub-capsular Cataract: In this case, an opacity develops next to the capsule of the lens. With this condition, there is generally a rapid vision change.
There are a variety of symptoms triggered by cataracts that include blurred vision, a dulling in colors and difficulty adjusting to bright lights. Other symptoms include increased nearsightedness, requiring a frequent change in prescription eye glasses. Cataracts can also cause double or multiple vision. Some people experience a phenomenon referred to as second sight. When this happens, their near or reading vision actually improves because of the swelling caused by the cataract and an increase in the eye glass number to improve clarity. Don’t be fooled though, because as the blurriness of the lens increases, even stronger glasses cannot help.
Accurate cataract diagnosis requires an eye specialist who is able to perform a variety of tests during his examination. These include tests like a visual acuity examination, where the eye chart is used to measure distance as well as reading vision. Refraction testing is another part of the exam and it determines whether or not the vision can be improved through the use of glasses. Glare testing checks to see how the eye will react to various lighting conditions. Potential acuity testing will give the examiner an idea of what the vision can be like with the removal of the cataract. Another useful test is contrast sensitivity. This determines the eye’s ability to make a distinction between shades of grey.
In the early stages of a cataract, the vision can be improved by wearing eyeglasses that have an anti-glare coating, magnifying lenses or glasses that produce brighter lighting. Unfortunately, for advanced stages, surgery is the only option to improve vision.
After reaching the age of 60, everyone should have a dilated eye test every two years, as well as regular examinations to check for symptoms related to macular degeneration, glaucoma or any other eye disorder (age related or otherwise). Because we rely so heavily on our vision in our daily tasks and pleasures it’s most important to take good care of our eyes. With this information perhaps we can all take better care of our eyesight and take the necessary precautions to keep our eyes as healthy as possible.