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HomeHealth A-Z Cataracts
Regular eye exams can help you and your doctor act quickly if there are cataracts developing so you can avoid permanent damage to your vision.



Definition of Cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye disorder in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded, impairing vision, due to natural aging or trauma to the eye.

Description of Cataracts

Cataracts are quite common and are basically an opacity that occurs on the crystalline lens of the eye but can also occur in its envelope. Many patients start off by developing myopia in the eye which is caused by the developing senile cataract causing increased power of the crystalline lens. Gradually there is a yellowing as well as opacity of the lens that causes a reduction in the ability to see blue colors. Luckily, cataracts progress quite slowly, giving the patient time to confront the problem and have it treated. If the cataract is not treated it can cause vision loss, eventually causing blindness.

In addition to blindness, if the cataract is allowed to progress, the cataract cortex will liquefy and will form what is called a Morganian Cataract, which can cause painful inflammation. The inflammation is caused by the lens capsule when it ruptures and leaks. If this condition is not treated it will likely cause phacomorphic glaucoma and a whole host of other problems. There are different types of cataracts and they can be partial, complete, stationary, progressive, hard, or soft. Interestingly, the term cataract means waterfall in Latin and also means to dash down in Greek, and despite the different meanings, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world today.

While cataracts are quite common it is not something that can be ignored or taken lightly. There are many people who have ignored the symptoms and even after being treated they suffer from vision problems because the damage is irreversible. Regular eye exams can help you and your doctor act quickly if there are cataracts developing so you can avoid permanent damage to your vision.

Causes and Risk Factors of Cataracts

There are many reasons that cataracts develop, and many times they are not a primary condition, instead they are caused by exposure to certain elements or they can also be caused by diseases, such as diabetes. Those that are most at risk are those that have had exposure to ultra-violet rays, those that have diabetes, the elderly, as well as those that have a family history of the condition. It’s thought that injuries to the eye can also make someone more likely to develop cataracts, and many doctors site that physical trauma to the eye is an indication that someone may in fact develop the condition later on in life.

There are also some drugs that are known to cause cataracts and generally the patient and the doctor have decided that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risk of the development of cataracts. Some of the drugs that often cause cataracts are corticosteroids as well as Esetimibe. It’s important to understand that there are different types of cataracts and all of the different types can be caused by different things. The most common types of cataracts are nuclear, cortical, mature, and hyper mature. Cataracts can also vary in location being called posterior or anterior.

Symptoms of Cataracts

The symptoms of cataracts usually start with a change in vision and then changes in the actual appearance of the lens of the eye. With routine eye exams an eye doctor can usually detect a yellowing of the crystalline lens long before there are any significant symptoms. If the cataract is allowed to develop the symptoms become more obvious and will likely include changes in vision, an opaque color to the eye, difficulty in determining colors, especially those that are blue, blindness, and the development of glaucoma.

Diagnosis of Cataracts

The diagnosis of cataracts is usually not difficult at all. Because the disease is very common doctors know to look for it and generally see a change in the lens before the symptoms are noticeable or bothersome. The lens will usually begin to yellow, or depending on the type of cataracts doctors can see that trauma to the eye has caused cataracts to develop. There is not another type of eye condition that mimics cataracts, so simply seeing an eye doctor will result in a definite positive or negative diagnosis of cataracts.

Treatment of Cataracts

The treatment of cataracts is usually approached surgically using what is called a chopper or probe. Doctors carefully remove the cloudy crystalline lens, though there are two different surgeries that can be performed. The two procedures are known as ECCE or ICCE. Extra-capsular surgery or ECCE involves removing the lens but preserving the lens capsule and allowing it to remain in tact. High frequency sound waves are often used to break up the lens before the extraction to make for an easier and more effective surgical result. In both surgeries the lens is removed and is replaced by a plastic lens or implant which will stay in the eye for good.

Luckily cataract surgeries are performed with just a local anesthetic, which lowers the risk of the procedure especially for the elderly. There are some risks associated with the surgery that include posterior capsular opacification as well as retinal detachment. With the ICCE procedure there is a risk that the patient will have to wear glasses after the procedure.

Prevention of Cataracts

The prevention of cataracts is something that is hard to address because there are many different types of cataracts and they are caused for many different reasons, some beyond the control of the patient, such as diabetes. Some theories suggest that protecting the eyes with ultra violet protective sunglasses may slow or even prevent the formation of cataracts, though this cannot be proven. Others suggest that the taking of antioxidants on a regular basis will help to prevent the condition, but again there is no proof that this will work. In time and with continued research there is a hope that cataracts can be prevented in most cases, except where disease and trauma occur. Simply being aware of the need to care for ones eyes is a big step toward prevention. Luckily surgery today for cataracts is somewhat routine, giving people that do suffer hope as well as the ability to avoid blindness and other complications of the disease.

External Resources

National Eye Institute

St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute

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