By Dr S.S. Gill
Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about CATARACT.
The lens in our eyes plays a crucial role in vision. This lens is transparent, crystalline and focuses light on the back of the eye (retina). When this crystalline lens becomes cloudy, it is called a cataract and this is most often seen in the aging population.
When the lens becomes a cataract, it affects vision in some way or the other, either in the loss of clarity or quality of vision. This is because cataracts block and distort the light that has to pass through the lens, causing visual symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cataract due to aging is responsible for 48% of world blindness, which represents about 18 million people worldwide. The reason people go blind is because there are third-world countries which have no proper facilities to treat them.
In Malaysia, cataract is the leading cause of poor vision in patients above the age of 55 years. Cataracts usually occur very gradually although there are instances it may occur rapidly. Quite often, people may be unaware that they have cataracts because the changes in their vision have been gradual. Cataracts commonly affect both eyes, but it is not uncommon for cataracts to advance more rapidly in one eye.
What are some common causes of cataract?
Contrary to popular belief, cataract is not caused by reading or eye strain. Among the common causes are:
Aging: This is the commonest cause for cataracts developing. Almost every person will develop a cataract at some stage of life because everyone is constantly aging. Most individuals would have cataracts by the time they reach their seventies.
Secondary cataracts. These occur due to medical conditions, like diabetes, or due to exposure certain drugs like corticosteroids or diuretics, radiation and ultraviolet exposure. Heavy alcohol consumption is another.
Traumatic cataracts. These form as a result of an eye injury. At times the injury may have occurred much earlier and you may have even forgotten about it. If you do remember any history of trauma, it should be highlighted to your eye doctor as special precautions during surgery will need to be taken during surgery.
Congenital cataracts. Babies are sometimes born with cataracts as a result of an infection, injury, or poor development. They may also develop during childhood – Will need URGENT treatment to avoid permanent vision loss.
Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight initially but with time, these cataracts eventually interfere with vision. In the initial treatment of cataracts in adults, stronger lighting and stronger powered spectacles may be able to help you deal with cataracts. But if the impaired vision interferes with your usual activities, you will need cataract surgery.