Signs, symptoms and why early diagnosis is important

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Cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment worldwide and, if left untreated, can cause irreparable damage to the eyes. The longer a cataract remains in the eye, the more difficult it is to remove it safely and effectively. Therefore, early detection and prompt treatment are important. A cataract is a clouding of the normally transparent lens of the eye. The lens is crucial because it causes the light rays to focus on the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye. When a significant clouding of the lens occurs, it blocks the focusing of light rays and causes serious vision problems. Therefore, it is necessary to have basic awareness and knowledge about the problem so that early treatment can be undertaken to prevent sight loss.

The causes

Aging is a major factor linked to cataracts. According to recent reports, in India, 71.2% of visual impairments in the elderly are caused by cataracts. Other causes that can lead to cataracts include eye damage, severe myopia, long-term use of certain medications (eg, steroids), or conditions such as diabetes, excessive smoking, and exposure to intense heat and radiation.

Symptoms

Cataract has multiple symptoms like blurred vision, loss of contrast, glare and halos that can impact daily activities like driving, reading or recognizing people. Visual impairment due to cataracts also increases the risk of falls and causes depression in older people. People may not know they have cataracts if they go undiagnosed, and significantly both eyes can develop cataracts if symptoms are not treated early. Being aware of the condition is helpful in tackling this eye issue.

Early diagnosis is important

Cataracts can be detected during routine eye exams. For age-related cataracts, a periodic comprehensive eye exam is recommended for people age 50 and older. Any patient with symptoms suggestive of a cataract should consult an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. It is important not to take vision loss for granted or to accept vision loss as part of life.

The treatment

Cataract surgery is technologically advanced and can improve vision by customizing it, depending on the patient’s condition. As the precision of the instruments has increased more and more, it is now possible to undertake precise measurements of the eye. The surgery is performed as a day surgery and recovery usually occurs within a week of the procedure.

According to a recent report, the number of surgeries needed to clear a backlog of cataract blindness is 49 lakhs and the number of surgeries needed to clear a backlog of severe visual impairment due to cataracts is 53.63 lakh . The central government’s new initiative to reduce the prevalence of blindness to 0.25% by 2025 will certainly eliminate the backlog of cataract and severe visual impairment surgeries.

(Dr. Girish Budhrani is Chief Physician, Cataract and Cornea, RJ Sankara Eye Hospital)

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