Cataract

What is it?

Cataract is a condition in which the lens of the eyes become opaque or cloudy. The lens is normally transparent to allow light rays get into the eyes for images to be formed. When someone has a cataract, their vision becomes blurry.

Cataracts are very common, especially in the elderly. They usually affect both eyes, although you can get them in just one eye.

What could cause it?

The most common cause of cataract is ageing. Age-related cataract is more common in certain families than the others, and tends to occur earlier in Africans.

The most common cause of cataract affecting one eye only is trauma or injury to the eye.

Conditions like diabetes mellitus and certain drugs like corticosteroids can cause cataract on both eyes.

Cataract can also be due to a concurrent eye disease.

Maternal infections like German measles may cause cataract in the child. Heredity may also play a role in about one-third of children born with cataract.

What treatments work?

Surgery is the only way to get rid of a cataract. During cataract surgery, the surgeon

removes the bad lens in the eye and may replace it with an artificial one, if available. It’s a minor surgery, and you’ll usually be able to go home the same day as the surgery.

The artificial lens shouldn’t feel any different from your natural lens. However, when this is not available, the person has to wear special glasses or contact lenses.

Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to take care of the eye for a good outcome.

If you have cataracts in both eyes, it’s normal to treat them in separate operations, one or two months apart.

How can cataract surgery help me?

After your operation, you should be able to see better, even enough to drive. It may take a little while before you feel the full benefit of cataract surgery. Even then, however, you’re unlikely to have perfect eyesight and may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses.

You may also need to have different glasses for either reading or for seeing long distances. This is because the artificial lenses are not usually able to change focus like the natural lenses do. However, newer artificial lenses that can change focus are becoming more widely available. They’re called multi-focal and accommodating lenses.

If you have another eye problem as well as cataracts, it may affect how well your operation works.

What are the risks?

Like any other surgery, cataract surgery carries risks. These include excessive bleeding, infections and eye damage. However, serious problems are relatively rare. Cataracts can’t grow back but months or years after the surgery, the tissue around the new lens may turn cloudy.

What will happen if I choose not to have surgery?

If you don’t have an operation, no matter what else you do, your sight will gradually get poorer. But this usually happens so slowly that you don’t need to rush into a decision. If your eye sight doesn’t bother you so much as to interfere with your activities, you may choose not to have an operation just yet.

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Your doctor will guide you in making the right decision by proper evaluation and experience, as well as your own peculiar needs. If you choose not to have treatment immediately, you can always change your mind in the future if you feel the need to.

However, if there’s another eye problem whose treatment is urgent, it may be advisable to have the cataract surgery done at the same time.