Dealing With The Common
Cataracts are one of the most common eye diseases and the leading cause of blindness around the world. Affecting the eye’s natural lens, the ailment can appear in one or both eyes. Those experiencing blurriness or sensitivity to light should see a physician right away.
Seeing the big picture
The eye uses the cornea and lens to focus light on the retina, where images are sent to the brain. Cataracts cause the lens to break down and lose transparency. As the lens turns opaque, seeing through the eye resembles looking through a foggy window. Over time, the disease can worsen to the point that no light can get through.
Age is but a number
Cataracts can show up at any age, although the condition is much more common as time presses on. An estimated 30 million adults aged 40 and older have some form of the disease. Congenital cataracts can form in fetuses or develop shortly after the baby has left the womb.
When does blindness set in?
There’s no simple answer to this question, as a number of factors can play a role in cataract formation. The various types of cataracts grow at entirely different speeds. Of the three most common types, nuclear sclerotic and cortical cataracts can take several years to fully form. Patients may not even recognize objects are becoming blurry due to slow development.
On the other hand, posterior subcapsular cataracts are known to develop quickly in the eye. In some cases, patients can go from clear vision to blind in a matter of months. While the type of cataract plays a significant role in formation, other factors can also play a part.
Factors to ponder
To keep cataracts at bay for as long as possible, individuals with diabetes should take special care to keep blood sugars in check. Uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to detrimental effects on the lens. Similarly, both smoking and drinking contribute to the onset and faster maturity of the disease. Having direct exposure to ultraviolet sunlight can damage proteins that make up the lens. Anyone using steroids, especially in eyedrop form, can promote cataract growth as well.
Among these other factors, a traumatic event may be the most significant in causing cataracts to appear. Whether blunt or penetrating, such an impact typically causes the fastest cataract formation resulting from accident or injury. The same logic applies to trauma from surgical procedures in or around the eye.
A bright ray of hope
Fortunately, blindness from cataracts is rarely permanent. A simple, low-risk procedure can remove a cataractous lens while inserting a clear artificial one to restore sight. What can take years to develop can be repaired in as little as 15 minutes. With an artificial lens in place, the risk of blindness from cataracts is a thing of the past.