With age comes a wealth of knowledge and a growing list of health problems.

Thanks to advancements in healthcare, many of these conditions, including cataracts, have become manageable and treatable. Because cataracts cause vision loss and can eventually lead to blindness, being able to recognize early signs and prevent progression of the condition is crucial. Whether you know someone who has just been diagnosed, or suspect you might have the condition yourself, here are 8 things you should know about cataracts.

1. What exactly are cataracts?

A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye, causing blurred vision and making everyday tasks harder. Made of mostly water and protein, the lens helps to focus light on the retina, a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The proteins are arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. However, as we get older, some of the proteins may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens, forming a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

2. There are many different types of cataracts, most of which can be broadly categorized into three groups

Nuclear cataracts affect the center of the lens. Over time, the lens turns densely yellow and clouds vision. As the density increases, the lens may turn brown, leading to difficulty distinguishing between shades of color.

Cortical cataracts affect the edges of the lens. These begin as whitish, wedge-shaped opacities or streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. As the cataract progresses, the streaks extend to the center and interfere with light passing through the center of the lens.

Posterior subcapsular cataracts affect the back of the lens. This type of cataract often interferes with reading vision, reduces vision in bright light, causes glare or halos around light sources at night, and tends to progress faster than other types do.

3. Cataracts are not only found in adults

Babies can be born with cataracts because of a genetic mutation or intrauterine infection. Children can develop cataracts as well, typically as a result of an inflammatory disease, a genetic mutation, trauma, or exposure to certain medications or radiation.

4. Symptoms of cataracts

Cataracts typically develop over a lifetime, so slowly that most people initially do not realize they even have them. They often affect both eyes, but rarely to the same degree.

cataracts symptoms burred vision

Some symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Blurry or cloudy vision
  • Blurry patches in the field of vision
  • Poor vision in low light or very bright light
  • Dulled or faded colors
  • Difficulty reading
  • The need to change eyeglass prescriptions more frequently

Cataracts do not usually cause discomfort. Symptoms such as irritation, aching, itching or redness are more likely to be caused by another eye disorder.

5. Potential risk factors

There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing cataracts, be it a lifestyle choice or a pre-existing condition. These include:

  • Advancing age
  • Diabetes: people with diabetes mellitus face a 60% greater risk of developing cataracts
  • Long-term exposure to drugs such as corticosteroids, chlorpromazine and other phenothiazine-related medications
  • Exposure to UV radiation
  • Smoking
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Nutritional deficiency, specifically with low levels of antioxidants
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Previous eye injury, inflammation, or surgery (learn how to take care of your eyes here!)
  • Having a close relative with cataracts

6. Decreasing the risk of developing cataracts

As mentioned, a diet lacking in antioxidants may increase chances of developing cataracts. Be sure to add colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet to lower the risk of cataracts. These foods are rich in antioxidant vitamins and phytochemicals and include vitamins A, C and E, lutein and zeaxanthin. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as certain types of fish (for example, salmon, trout, and mackerel), have also been linked to reducing the risk of cataracts.

7. How to prevent caratacts?eye doctor cataracts halza hens Dr Hen

Though no studies have proven how to prevent cataracts or slow the progression of cataracts, doctors think that certain lifestyle modifications may help. These include:

  • Scheduling regular eye examinations – this helps detect problems during early stages
  • Quitting smoking
  • Keeping other health problems under control, particularly diabetes
  • Following an antioxidant-rich diet
  • Shielding the eyes from UV rays by wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

8) Treatment

Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most highly-perfected surgical procedures in medicine, with a 95% success rate. With surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one that can even be designed to correct short-sightedness.

We at Halza strongly encourage you to make the lifestyle choices described in section 7. Of course, despite your best efforts, cataracts can still develop. If or when your cataracts prevent you from functioning at your best, it should be reassuring to know that cataract surgery is considered a safe and effective treatment.

Sources: MedicalnewstodayAOA MayoClinic Diabetes.co.ukAAO

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