What is cataract?

Cataract is an eye disease that causes dimness in the eye lens. Cataract usually develops with age due to the eye lens becoming thicker. In the UK, about 30 % of people aged 65 or older suffer from cataract, but almost all 80-year-olds have dimness in their eye lens. The disease can also be hereditary or caused by an eye trauma or a different eye disease. Cataract can affect people in all age groups, and it is also the most frequent cause of blindness.


What are the symptoms of cataract?

The course of the disease varies a lot. Some experience a gradual deterioration of the eyesight over the years, while others experience quick significant changes in just a matter of weeks. Usually, the symptoms are initially felt in one eye, but in time the other eye will also become affected. The symptoms of cataract include:

  • Reduced and blurred vision – gradually it becomes more difficult to see objects both close and far from the eye

  • Changed colour perception

  • Blinding discomfort – especially from exposure to heavy light in darkness, where you feel blinded due to the cloudiness lighting up

  • Double vision that remains when you cover one eye.  


What are the causes of cataract?

Being an age-related disease, the specific cause of cataract, and the underlying mechanisms that lead to deteriorated eyesight, is very complex and has not yet been fully established. However, it is believed that it involves several different physiological processes, which are affected by our environment, our genetic material, our diet and blood circulation. With age, the lens thickens and becomes heavier as new layers of lens fibers are constantly formed in the outer shell of the lens. This makes the core of the lens compact and hard, which can be harmful to the lens, and it can contribute to the lens losing its transparency. In time, the cells of the lens also become poorer at absorbing water and nutrition, which can contribute to the disease development.

Apart from the age-related changes to the lens, there are also other diseases that are associated with cataract, herein diabetes and other metabolic disorders as well as iritis. Damage to the eye due to X-rays, infrared rays and UV-rays increases the risk of developing cataract. If a pregnant woman is exposed to i.e. German measles, there is an increased risk of her child being born with cataract.  


What are the treatments for cataract?

Cataract can be treated relatively easily, but the only treatment is an operation. Currently, specialists use a microsurgical technique with ultrasound to dissolve the slurred content of the lens, before removing the lens. Afterwards, they insert a plastic lens in the original lens capsule.

The operation takes place in local anesthesia and only takes about 15-20 minutes. Complications associated with the operation are extremely rare. These complications include: loss of eyesight and dimness in the back of the lens capsule, called ‘aftercataract’. Aftercataract can be treated with laser therapy. The body will usually try to repel the new lens as it is a foreign object, and the specialist will therefore recommend using eye drops with adrenocortical hormone, which prevents the immune system from attacking the lens. After a few weeks, you can visit your optician for new specs that are adapted to the new eye lenses. This, however, is often only necessary with reading glasses.

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