According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, cataract is"Complete or partial opacity of the ocular lens.".
There are two types of cataracts:A patient with cataracts will eventually find it hard to read, or drive a car - especially during the night. Even seeing people's facial expressions becomes difficult. Cataracts are not usually painful. The patient's long-distance vision is more severely affected at first.
As cataracts develop very slowly most people do not know they have them at first. However, the clouding progresses and vision will gradually get worse. Stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help improve vision. Nevertheless, eventually the vision impairment affects the patient's ability to carry out everyday tasks. At this point the individual will need surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is usually a very effective and safe procedure.
Cataracts cause more vision problems globally than any other eye condition or disease - especially in developing countries, where they are much more common among poor people, according to a study carried out in Kenya, The Philippines, and Bangladesh.
Both Men and Women are affected equally. We are all at risk of developing cataracts because we will all get old one day.
The following factors may increase a person's chances of developing cataracts:
What are the symptoms of age-related cataracts?Symptoms usually creep up many years after onset - usually when the person is elderly. Progressively, more of the lens becomes cloudy. People with mild cataracts will not notice they have it for a long time.
Cataracts often affect both eyes, but rarely equally.
People with cataracts may have the following symptoms: As the person's vision deteriorates, and the glare of oncoming headlights and street lights gets worse, driving becomes awkward and potentially very dangerous - research carried out by optometrists and psychologists in Australia shows that motorists suffering from cataracts are less able to spot potentially dangerous hazards on the roads. Drivers with cataracts eventually start suffering from eyestrain and find themselves blinking more frequently in an attempt to clear their vision.
Cataracts do not usually cause any change in the appearance of the eye. Any discomforts, such as irritation, aching, itching or redness are most likely caused by some other eye disorder.
Cataracts are not hazardous to the sufferer's health, or the health of the eye. If the cataract becomes hypermature (completely white), the sufferer may experience inflammation, headache and some pain. Hypermature cataracts need to be removed if there is inflammation or pain.
How are cataracts diagnosed?Anybody who experiences vision problems should see a GP (general practitioner, primary care physician), an ophthalmologist, or an optometrist. The GP will most likely refer the patient to an ophthalmologist, or an optometrist. The eye specialist will carry out a number of tests. These may include: Although an eye test may help confirm a cataract diagnosis, it may not always reflect the patient's quality of life. Some patients who do badly in a test seem to have no problem with daily function, while others who may do well insist that their eyesight is poor and does interfere with ordinary activities.
Treatment for cataractsIf the patient is found to be only mildly affected surgical treatment may not be needed. During its early stages, stronger glasses and brighter lights may help improve vision. The following simple approaches may assist people who are not ready yet to have surgery: Surgery
However, these are only temporary measures - the cataracts will continue developing and gradually impair eyesight more.
Patients who take alpha-blockers or are considering taking alpha-blockers should be aware that the drugs may increase the difficulty of cataract surgery. While Flomax (an alpha-blocker) is largely prescribed to men to treat prostate enlargement, some women also take the drug to treat urinary retention problems. Other alpha-blockers are used to treat hypertension. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery issued an advisory telling patients and GPs to inform their surgeon if they are taking alpha-blockers, or took them in the past. Once informed, the ophthalmologist can anticipate certain problems and employ different surgical techniques that help to achieve excellent outcomes.
When the cataracts are severe the only effective treatment is surgery. The specialist will recommend surgery if the patient: The cloudy lens is removed from the eye and an artificial clear plastic one is put in its place - an intraocular implant (intraocular lens). In most developed countries, and a growing number of developing countries, cataract operations are performed as keyhole surgery. The patient will be given a local anesthetic. He/she will not usually have to spend the night in hospital. The operation is commonly known as phacoemulsification or phaco extracapsular extraction. Laser surgery is not used for cataract procedures. (There are more details about the operation further down this page)
Pre-operative assessment (assessment before surgery)
The specialist will assess the patient's eyes and general health. During the pre-operative assessment the eye will be measured so that the replacement artificial lens can be prepared.
The day of the operation - before it begins
Eye drops that dilate (widen) the pupils will be administered just before the procedure. Sometimes the eye drops will also have anesthetic in them, or the doctor may inject the tissue around the eye for a local anesthetic. As soon as the anesthetic starts working the area will be numbed and the patient will feel nothing. During the operation he/she will be aware of a bright light, but will not be able to see what is happening.
Various types of replacement lenses may be used: The operation
The eye surgeon makes a tiny cut in the cornea at the front. He/she then inserts a minute probe through the cut. The probe uses ultrasound and breaks up the cloudy lens into very small pieces which are sucked out.
The artificial lens is then inserted through the cut. The lens sits in the lens capsule to keep it in place - the lens capsule is like a little pocket. When it is first inserted the lens is folded - it unfolds when in position.
The whole procedure should not take more than about 30 minutes. Most patients will wear an eye pad for protection for a short while.
Other procedures After the operation
Most patients will experience vision improvement virtually immediately. It may take a while for the eye to settle down completely. The cut in the eye may occasionally need a stitch - in most cases, however, it is so small that it heals by itself.
Patients should avoid vigorous activities for a while. Most individuals find they can go about their daily activities as soon as they get home. An appointment will be made to test the patient's vision. Most patients will need different glasses after their operation. The new glasses can only be determined after his/her vision has settled down - this can take several weeks.
There is no other way to cure cataracts. Medications, dietary supplements, exercise or optical devices are not effective. As mentioned earlier, during the early stages there are some things the patient can do to help see things better - but they are only temporary.
Cataract surgery reduces hip fracture risk - researchers from Brown University reported in JAMA that seniors who underwent cataract surgery were less likely to have hip fractures compared to those who did not undergo the operation.