Cataract: What you should know

| 05/05/2011

(LIONS):You may have heard of cataracts. They are the commonest cause of treatable blindness in the world. The word literally means ‘waterfall’ as in ‘the cataracts of the Nile’ but now is used to describe any cloudiness of the natural lens of the eye. The natural lens is about the size and shape of a shirt button and it is inside the eyeball, behind the coloured iris, just past the pupil, held inside a clear envelope or capsule. In children and young adults the natural lens is normally clear, transparent and liquid. It has the highest protein content of any tissue in the human body. It is designed to transmit and focus light to the back of the eye, at the fovea of the retina, much as a camera lens focuses light on to the film at the back of the camera.

The lens can become cloudy for many different reasons, for example, infections during development in the uterus, so that babies may even be born with cataract. Any trauma to the eye, such as a blow or punch, can lead to cataract formation. Sometimes a chronic inflammation of the eye, often seen as part of a generalised disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to cataract formation.

Most cataracts occur in older people, usually with symptoms of blurred vision and debilitating glare (especially at night). People with diabetes tend to develop cataracts about 10 years earlier than non-diabetics. Interestingly, some people with cataracts regain their near vision and take pride in being able to thread a needle or read without glasses but they are often not be able to recognise someone’s face across the road.

There is not much we can do to prevent cataract formation except to give up smoking. Cigarette smoke has been shown to cause cataracts. Surgical treatment for cataracts is available here in the Cayman Islands. Surgery to remove the old cloudy lens and replace it with a new plastic lens allows the vast majority of people to enjoy good vision again. Naturally there are risks, as with any surgery. But the benefits to be enjoyed are often worth it. Ask around and you might be surprised how many people have had this surgery and they will tell you how much it has improved their quality of life.

This article is one of a series regarding eye health in order to mark the Lions white Cane Week

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