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A cataract is a progressive cloudiness (also called opacity or opacification), hardening, and yellowing of the normally transparent lens of the eye. It may develop as a result of aging, metabolic disorders, trauma or hereditary.

Alternative Names of Cataracts are: Lens opacity

Complications of Cataracts

Complications of Cataracts are secondary conditions, symptoms, or other disorders that are caused by Cataracts. In many cases the distinction between symptoms of Cataracts and complications of Cataracts is unclear or arbitrary. The list of complications that have been mentioned in various sources for Cataracts includes:

  • Impaired vision
  • Blindness
  • Glaucoma (in rare cases) -Glaucoma is an eye disease causing gradual peripheral vision degradation. Glaucoma (glaw-KOH-muh) starts from pressure building up in the eye. Over time, this pressure damages your eye's main nerve--the optic nerve. The damage first causes you to lose sight from the sides of your eyes.

Causes of Cataracts
The following factors may increase a person's chances of developing cataracts:

  • Age
  • Close relatives who have/had cataracts (family history)
  • Diabetes
  • Ionizing radiation exposure - airline pilots have an increased risk of nuclear cataracts compared with non-pilots, and that risk is associated with cumulative exposure to cosmic radiation.
  • Long-term exposure to bright sunlight
  • Long-term use of corticosteroids - many people with asthma rely on inhaled, and sometimes oral, steroids, as do people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Studies revealed that cataract risk is higher for patients taking these medications.
  • Previous eye inflammation
  • Previous eye injury
  • Exposure to lead - lifetime lead exposure may increase the risk of developing cataracts.
  • Crystallins loss of function - A specific type of protein (crystallins) begins to lose function as the eye ages. As the protein loses function, small peptides, made of 10 to 15 amino acids, start forming and accelerate cataract formation in the eye, a study revealed.

Signs & Symptoms of Cataracts

The most common symptoms of a cataract are:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision.
  • Colors seem faded.
  • Glare. Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright. A halo may appear around lights.
  • Poor night vision.
  • Double vision or multiple images in one eye. (This symptom may clear as the cataract gets larger.)
  • Frequent prescription changes in your eyeglasses or contact lenses.

These symptoms also can be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional.

Diagnosis of Cataracts
In many cases, the diagnosis of a cataract is fairly simple. However, in the prenatal population, although diagnosis is possible it is a bit more difficult. Ultrasounds have proven an effective method to detect cataracts in unborn children. It is imperative that they be detected early if present as cataracts in babies can result in blindness for life if not treated properly and quickly soon after birth.

The most common way for an age-related cataracts to be diagnosed is during a routine eye exam. Since cataracts usually develop over a long period of time, in many cases they will not even be noticed by the individual if they are not causing any extreme vision changes. This is why it is so crucial, especially for the elderly, to have their eyes checked by a professional on a regular basis.

During an eye exam, performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, there are several tests which may be administered to check for the presence of a cataract.

  • A visual acuity test will measure how well the individual can see while standing at various lengths from the cue card.
  • A slip lamp exam uses a specialized microscope to increase the magnification of the eye. The specialist can then examine the eye in detail and up close.
  • A tonometry test is a standard test which measures the fluid pressure inside the eye. The major finding in this test, if an increased pressure is detected, is the possibility of glaucoma.
  • A dilated eye exam dilates the pupil. In this manner, the specialist is better able to view the lens to check for the present of a cataract.

Treatments of Cataracts

The only treatment for cataract is surgery to remove it. This is done if you cannot perform normal activities, even with glasses. If a cataract is not bothersome, then surgery is usually not necessary. However, there may be an additional eye problem that cannot be treated without first having surgery. For some people, changing glasses, getting stronger bifocals, or using a magnifying lens is helpful enough.

Prevention of Cataracts

The best prevention involves controlling diseases that increase the risk of a cataract, and avoiding exposure to factors known to promote cataract formation. Wearing sunglasses when you are outside during the day can reduce the amount of UV light your eyes are exposed to. Some sunglasses do not filter out the harmful UV. An optician should be able to tell you which sunglasses filter out the most UV. For patients who smoke cigarettes, quitting will decrease the risk of cataracts.

When to seek Medical Advice
An eye specialist can detect and track the development of cataracts during routine eye exams. Have your eyes examined:

  • Every two to four years until age 65 and every one to two years at age 65 and older.
  • Anytime you develop new eye problems.

If you experience any signs and symptoms of cataracts, see your eye doctor. An eye doctor can diagnose cataracts with the help of a careful eye exam.

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