Most people have heard the term “cataract” before. In fact, it is likely that most people will personally know someone who has a cataract or who has undergone cataract surgery. Cataracts are a very common finding during an eye exam, mainly because developing cataracts is a normal part of ageing. Other than age, keep reading to find out what causes cataract.
What is an Eye Cataract? Information About the Condition
A cataract is an opacity of the lens inside the eyeball. This lens is typically transparent so that light can easily pass through to allow for vision. However, due to the various factors that can lead to developing cataracts, the eye’s lens can lose its transparency. This results in the typical symptoms of a cataract, which include hazy, filmy, or cloudy vision, reduced contrast sensitivity, and increased glare sensitivity.
In the early stages of a cataract, surgery may usually be postponed quite safely. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will discuss with you whether they recommend you undertake cataract surgery at a certain point in time or whether your vision can be reasonably improved through a change in your spectacle prescription or by increasing the lighting in your environment. If you find that these measures aren’t sufficient to improve your sight to a level you’re comfortable with, your eye care professional will counsel you on your options with cataract surgery.
Depending on what causes your cataract, there may be some situations where the cataract progresses rapidly, causing a steep decline in your vision. This may mean you need to undergo cataract surgery just a short period of time after first developing cataracts.
What Causes Cataract? Find Out the Various Factors Affecting the Conditions of the Eyes
Increasing age accounts for the vast majority of cataract cases, known as senile cataracts, and subsequently, the majority of cataract surgery operations. Although there are exceptions, these tend to be slow-growing. While it’s not fully understood, age-related cataracts are thought to develop due to changes to the lens structure from accumulative oxidative damage to the fibres. UV exposure is also a contributing factor. The damage to the lens fibres causes them to lose their transparent arrangement, resulting in a haze in the lens.
What else causes cataract? There are various causes that can lead to the formation of a cataract, including:
Certain systemic diseases or conditions
A systemic disease is one that affects the entire body and is not localised to one organ or area, like the eye. Certain metabolic systemic conditions have been associated with the formation of a cataract and an increased risk of requiring early cataract surgery. Abnormal metabolic processes in the body can result in certain compounds accumulating in the lens of the eye, affecting its transparency and resulting in a cataract. Diabetes is a well-known metabolic disease that is linked with the early development of cataracts. During diabetes, high glucose levels in the body cause the eye’s lens to swell as it absorbs excess water into its fibres. This influx of fluid damages the fibres, causing them to become opaque and creating a cataract. Having a metabolic disease has the potential to make your cataract surgery at a higher risk of complications.
Other systemic conditions that are associated with cataract development include hypertension, obesity, allergic disease (known as atopy), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and Marfan’s syndrome.
Certain medications and medical procedures
Although medicine is designed to cure not harm, cataracts are a side effect of some drugs and medical procedures. Steroid medications, whether administered topically to the eye, ingested orally, injected, or inhaled, are a known culprit on the list of what causes cataract. Typically, the effects of steroid medications in the formation of a cataract will be dependent on the dosage and the duration that you’re using the medication. However, some individuals are more susceptible to the effects of these medications compared to others.
Some medical procedures to the eye have the potential to cause a cataract as an unfortunate side effect. One of the more common of these is retinal detachment repair. Although the surgery to fix a retinal detachment is intentional, the trauma of the procedure may induce a cataract, which must then be addressed with cataract surgery.
Both cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption have been associated with the development and accelerated progression of cataracts, though the exact relationship is not always clear. Smoking can double your risk of developing a cataract compared to someone who has never smoked. While quitting smoking reduces your risk, it will still never be as low as if you had never smoked in the first place.
The relationship between alcohol and cataracts is less well defined. Some studies note an increasing risk of age-related cataract with increasing alcohol consumption. However, there is some suggestion that moderate alcohol consumption may in fact protect against cataract development.
Risk of Trauma
In addition to trauma to the lens as a side effect of a deliberate medical procedure, cataracts may also be induced from accidental trauma. This includes electrocution, chemical injury to the eye, or physical trauma, whether blunt trauma or a penetrating eye injury.
Though there are factors that can complicate cataract surgery and increase the risk of a suboptimal outcome, most cases of surgery are quick and uneventful. Cataract operations are considered to be safe and effective.
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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.