The WHO have categorized cataracts as one of the priority eye diseases in the world. According to the current assessment of 2010 by the world health body, cataracts are responsible for up to 51% of world blindness, which represents about 20 million people. This makes the eye condition the leading cause of blindness and the number of people suffering from cataracts are anticipated to keep increasing unless major steps of intervention to reduce the number of people living with cataracts are taken.
It is on this premise that Medtrend Health sought to explore more into the reasons why many people are living with cataracts in our communities today. An optometrist, a graduate of Madonna University, Nigeria and currently working in Cross River State, Nigeria spoke with Medtrend Health to share more insight into the subject being discussed. Dr. Chioma Innocent, who also enjoys blogging, graphic design and writing eye health content online, narrated to Medtrend Health correspondent what cataracts are, the causes, symptoms and available treatments to give a better understanding on the leading cause of blindness in the world.
Reasons Why Many People Are Living With Cataracts Today
Dr. Chioma Innocent highlighted 3 main reasons why cataracts are still very common in the poulation and there are many people living with cataracts. “One of the major reasons why many people in the population are still living with cataracts today is ignorance. Most people who live with cataracts don’t even know they have cataracts because they don’t kow they are supposed to visit their eye doctor at least once a year to check their eyes.”
“Another reason people are still living with cataracts today is poor access to quality eye care services. Most individuals living in the rural areas do not have access to quality eye care services, so there is nowhere for them to go to check their eyes even if they wanted to” Dr. Chioma added.
She clarified that the cost of surgery is not really the reason why many people are still living with cataract today. “Cataract surgery is not expensive per se because there are some hospitals that even offer free cataract surgery in Nigeria. The other final reason we have many people living with cataract is because of fear. Most people with cataract today are scared of going for cataract surgery because they feel they may go blind when they go for the surgery.”
What Are Cataracts?
The super-simple definition of cataracts as explained by Dr. Chioma Innocent is “a cloudy crystalline lens.” The optometrist explained that, “the human eye lens is crystalline and it is the part of the eye that allows light to enter into our eyes to enable us see. When this lens become opacified or cloudy due to age or other factors, cataracts is said to have occurred.”
Although cataract is an age-related eye condition, children can sometimes be born with cataracts but this is very rare. Dr. Chioma further pointed out that cataracts may occur in one eye or both eyes and this becomes relevant factors during surgery and post-surgical care.
Things That Can Predispose A Person To Develop Cataracts
Apart from age, which is the leading cause of cataracts, there are other predisposing factors for developing cataracts. Knowing these other risk factors can help a person in preventing the eye condition in the first place or stop it from getting worse. Some of the other factors to consider as pointed out by the optometrist include :
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun.
- Diabetes Mellitus.
- High blood pressure.
- Cigarette Smoking.
- Previous eye injury or trauma to the eye.
- A previous surgery in the eye.
- Significant alcohol consumption.
- Family history of cataracts.
“Prolonged use of corticosteroids can also predispose a person to develop cataracts and people with diabetes and hypertension are 10 times more likely to develop cataracts,” she added. “At present, there is no real effective way to prevent the formation of cataract. So secondary preventive measure involves controlling other conditions and factors that can cause cataracts.”
How To Identify Cataracts Early
“The most significant sign of cataract is a whitish pupil (the black part of the eye) and this can only occur when the cataract is very very matured,” Dr. Chioma commented. She clarified that a whitish pupil, vision loss and blindness are late signs of the eye condition but there are however, some other early symptoms people can have that could be suggestive of cataracts.
“Actually, the most common early symptoms of cataracts are blurry vision and inability to see in dim light. Patients who have cataracts usually complain that it looks as if it is harmattan period. Most of them complain that it looks as if the cloud is covering their vision and others complain that they can’t really see in dim light compared to the way they used to see before. As a cataract patient, these are the major early symptoms you will notice once the cataracts starts developing.”
What To Do When Diagnosed With Cataracts
“Well, the most important thing you need to do if you start noticing any of the symptoms of cataract is to visit your eye doctor, who will tell you whether you have cataract and other things you need to do in order to help your vision,” Dr. Chioma answered.
“Another important thing people need to know is that cataracts can not be treated with eye drops, tablets or spectacles. The only treatment for cataract is surgery. It is the only thing that can help a person see again if they have cataract,” she emphasized. “So if you are a cataract patient or you have started noticing the symptoms of cataract, see your eye doctor first of all and let your eye doctor to counsel you and book you for eye surgery because that is the only treatment.”
The optometrist also noted that apart from eye surgery, there are some lifestyle changes recommended for cataract patient to help the cataract from becoming worse. “First of all, if you are a cataract patient and you are diabetic or hypertensive, please try to control your diabetes and control your blood pressure. You should also reduce your exposure to sunlight because the ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun can worsen your cataract.”
“Firewood smoke is also very dangerous to the eyes. So if you cook with firewood or stay around people who use firewood to cook, try to avoid the smoke coming out from the firewood because it is bad for cataracts. People who smoke cigarrettes and drink alcohol will also need to quit to prevent the cataract from getting worse,” Dr. Chioma further pointed out.
“I also advise cataract patients to take lots of vegetables and fruits because vegatables and fruits contain antioxidants which are very good for the eye. However, antioxidants, whether from fruits, vegetables or as supplements will not and can not remove the cataract. The only treatment to remove cataracts like I said earlier is surgery.”
Special Considerations Before and After Surgery
A cataract surgery involves surgically replacing the cloudy lens with an artificial one. “Before a patient goes for cataract surgery, one the most impotant thing done by the doctor is thorough eye investigation to determine other underlying eye disease. For instance, a patient who has both glaucoma and cataract is not indicated for the surgery because even after the cataract surgery, the glaucoma still won’t allow the patient to see properly.”
“Cataract surgery can not be performed when the eye pressure is high. The sugar level and blood pressure of the patient has to be checked before operating the patient and HIV test will also need to be done. The patient is advised to come along with a family member who will look after them when the surgery is over and help with instilling their eye drops,” Dr. Chioma enumerated.
She added that after the surgery, patients are advised not to carry any load and avoid laying facing down but rather facing up. If the surgery was done on the left eye for instance, the patient should not lye on that same side but on the right side instead to prevent the displacement of the artificial lens that was put. “In addition, the patient will need to be coming for regular eye check up weekly and then monthly until three months after the surgery when the surgical wound would have been completely healed. Eye glasses may then be given to the patient to help the patient see better,” Dr. Chioma concluded.