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What is Cataract?

Also known by the name of Lens Replacement Surgery, cataract surgery is the surgical removal of the natural or “crystalline lens” of the eye when it develops a cataract (an opaque screen that obfuscates vision). Cataracts can blur vision and may increase the glare emanated from lights, they develop when proteins in the eye begin clumping together and prevent the lens from transmitting clear images to the retina (and eventually to the brain via the optic nerve). Cataracts develop gradually with age and occur in one eye at a time, though sometimes they develop in both eyes. There are non surgical options available for treating cataract but upon consulting your ophthalmologist you might be advised to undergo surgery. 

Symptoms of Cataract

The common cataract symptoms are centred around the disorientation of vision. For example, blurred cloudy vision, extreme sensitivity to glare, seeing faded colours, continuous changes in the “power” of your eyes, difficulty seeing at night, dual vision etc. Another, almost hallucinatory symptom; is seeing halos forming around sources of light. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to permanent blindness.

Causes of Cataract

Cataracts can develop due to a number of causes, chief amongst which is ageing. Other commonly attributable causes include smoking, diabetes, ultraviolet radiation, long term usage of steroids, increased production of oxidants which reduces the anti oxidation capabilities of the eye, trauma, radiation, obesity, heavy alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, genetic predisposition and eye injuries.

Types of Cataract

  • •Nuclear Cataracts develop in the middle of the lens and turn the nucleus (centre of the eye) yellow or brown.
  • •Cortical cataracts develop in a triangular shape along the edges of the nucleus. Both nuclear and cortical cataracts develop gradually.
  • •Posterior Capsular cataracts form much quicker and occur in the posterior or “back” of the lens. 
  • •Cataracts that develop during the first year of an infant’s life are called congenital cataracts.
  • •“Secondary” cataracts develop through certain diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes and as a side effect of certain medications. 
  • •Trauma suffered by the eye can also lead to cataract; though this can take several years post trauma. Radiation exposure, for instance cancer treatment; can cause cataract. 

Diagnosis 

The ophthalmologist will conduct a series of eye tests to assess and analyse vision capacity and detection of cataracts. A regular eye chart test to examine vision from various distances and tonometry is used to measure eye pressure. A tonometry test involves using a puff of air to flatten the cornea and then testing eye pressure. Eye drops are applied in order to enlarge the pupil in order to check the health of or damage to the optic nerve and retina (at the posterior of the eye). Glare sensitivity and colour perception tests may be considered as well. 

Treatment of Cataract

Based on test results, you may be prescribed glasses with stronger power, anti-glare sun glasses and magnified lenses. Surgical removal of cataracts is recommended when one is unable to perform basic daily functions such as driving or reading or when cataracts hinder other eye treatment. Phacoemulsification deploys ultrasound waves to crack the lens and remove pieces of cataract. Extracapsular surgery involves removal of the cataract through in incision in the cornea; the natural lens is replaced with an artificial intraocular lens replaces post-surgery. Cataract surgery has come on leaps and bounds, is painless and offers a very high chance of success and a completely normal life. 

A few preventive measures include the discontinuation of certain activities such as smoking and alcohol consumption, using good quality sunglasses while out and about in the sun and regular eye checkups. A healthy and balanced diet which contains antioxidants: fruits (cranberries, red grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, figs, cherries, pears, guava, oranges, apricots, mango, red grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, and tomatoes) and vegetables (broccoli, spinach, radish, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and kale). A continuous check on diabetes and other diseases along with a check on body weight also help preventing the formation of cataract. 

Dr. Prashaant Chaudhry
Senior Consultant & HOD
Dept of Ophthalmology and Refractive Surgery

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