Cataracts are the most common cause of blindness in the world. According to Prevent Blindness America (PBA), there are more cases of this condition throughout the world than there are of macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy put together.
All cataracts involve an increasing cloudiness of the lens in the eye. As it grows, the patient’s vision becomes blurry. The exact symptoms depend on the part of the lens affected.
A nuclear cataract develops in the center of the lens, for example, while a cortical one starts on the edges of the lens. In a cortical cataract, the patient develops wedge-shaped opacities that extend towards the center of the lens.
Cataracts can also be described as age-related, congenital, traumatic or secondary. Traumatic ones are caused by eye injuries, and secondary ones are caused by a condition or substance that has impaired the patient’s health. They can, thus, be caused by poisons, some medications like corticosteroids, or diseases like diabetes.
A Note About Aging
Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for cataracts. About 50 percent of Americans have developed some degree of them by the time they are 65 years old. Approximately 70 percent of Americans who are 75 or older have the condition.
Other Risk Factors
A tendency to developing cataracts runs in families. People who have close relatives that developed cataracts are more likely to develop them in turn. People with diabetes are more likely to develop them than the general population. Researchers are not yet sure why, but they speculate that the patient’s impaired ability to metabolize glucose leads to waste products accumulating within the eye and damaging the lens.
Infections and injuries to the eye increase the risk of developing cataracts. Some diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, shingles or inflammatory bowel disease can cause inflammation of the eyes. Similarly, eye surgery also increases the chances of developing the condition.
Smoking also increases the risk of developing cataracts. Researchers believe that smoking causes free radicals to form and spread throughout the body, including the eyes. Smoking may also prevent minerals, vitamins and other nutrients from reaching the lens.
Prolonged exposure to lots of sunlight is another risk factor. People whose jobs or hobbies require them to spend a lot of time outdoors need to protect their eyes. Obesity, even if it isn’t accompanied by diabetes, can increase the risk of developing cataracts. Repeated exposure to ionizing radiation like X-rays is another risk factor.
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