Cataract: most common cause of Blindness worldwide

cataract

Cataract is a very common disease of the eye in the world. It is the most common cause of blindness in the world. To put it in simple form, when you look at the number of blind people you know, cataracts is responsible for over half of them.

Yes! That is how common the disease is. It is more common in the elderly (those above the age of 50). However, the good thing about it is that, Cataract is COMPLETELY CURABLE. With cataracts Surgery, a person who has not been able to see due to the disease can start seeing again.
So, this may be a good time to take that Uncle or Aunty of yours who just lost their sight, to the hospital today, to see a doctor. Who knows, it might just be cataracts, and you can be able to give them their sight back!
Just imagine the joy in giving sight back to the blind?

Still want to learn more? Keep reading!. We are going to talk about what it is, the symptoms of the disease, the treatment and how long after cataract surgery can you see clearly. We’d also mention some places in Nigeria where this surgery is done and what does cataract surgery cost in these places.

Table of Content

What Is Cataracts?

Cataract is a disease of the eye which develops when a part of the eye called the ‘lens’ becomes cloudy. The lens is a part of the eye that we see through (transparent), just like your normal eyeglasses. Apart from seeing through it, the lens also helps the eye to focus on objects at different distances from it. It works just like a camera.
It is with the help of this lens that you are able to see an object that is very close to you, almost touching your nose, and at the same time, also able to see other objects that are very far, almost at the end of the road when walking.

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A man with Cataracts on both eyes. That of the right eyes is more advanced. Image credits

Those who are not able to see things that are near or those that are far like this are said to have REFRACTIVE ERRORS and they can be corrected. You can read more about that here.

However, what happens in the disease is that this Lens becomes cloudy or opaque (like something us covering it, and you cannot see through it again). Just imagine wearing an eye glass and using nylon or paper to cover the glasses. That is exactly what happens in cataract. There are different possible reasons why this happens, as you would see below:

What Causes Cataracts

A common question that most people ask on hearing this is “What Causes cloudy eyes”. There are a number of reasons why the lens become cloudy, and some of them are;
Congenital: A child can be born with cataract. Yes. It happens, and this can be due to it being Inherited or from intrauterine Infections.
Hereditary: some forms of cataract can be inherited. This means that if you have someone that has cataract in your family, there are also chances of you developing it sometime in your life (especially in old age).
Intrauterine Infections: These are infections contracted by the mother that affected the child still in the womb and caused damage to some part (organs) of the child before he/she was born. Example of these Infections are: Rubella, Herpes, even Syphilis, etc.
Hence, the importance of screening pregnant women for these infections and providing treatments & care where necessary.
It can also happen due to Forceps used in delivery.

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A child with cataract on the left eye. Image credit

Trauma/Accidents: if you had an injury in your eye, e.g a heavy blow to the eye or a sharp object pierced your eye, there are chances you can develop cataract months or years after the incident.

Diabetes Mellitus: the disease have been commonly seen in individuals who have diabetes, especially in those who are poorly controlled. What happens here is that the excess sugar can be deposited in the lens of the eye. Hence, you have a risk of developing it if you do not properly control your body glucose level by taking your anti-diabetic drugs as prescribed by your doctor. See more about diabetes here.

Radiation: people who are exposed to tradition, whether ionizing, Microwave or Infrared can also develop cataract. Even the Ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause the disease after prolonged exposure. Hence, It is advisable to use sunglasses when going out in the sun.

Wilson Disease: this is similar to Diabetes, but only in this case, copper (rather than sugar) is deposited in the lens, and causes it to become cloudy.

Chemical injury: chemicals such as alkali can accidentally enter the eye and cause cataract

Other possible causes are; Electric shock.

Symptoms of Cataracts

This answers the question, “How do i know I have cataracts?”. Those developing the disease would show one or more of the following symptoms:
Blurring of vision: Your vision wont be clear, it will be progressively getting blurred.
Your eye might have been OK all this time, you haven’t had any eye problems since you were a child and just all of a sudden, you would start noticing that you cannot see clearly any more. You might not be able to see things that are far any more, or things that are near. This happens slowly over time. It could take months to develop, and you will not feel any pain.

Glare: when you look at light it would look like it is scattering.

Double vision: when you look at an object, it appears double (like you are seeing everything in twos or seeing a shadow of the person or thing).

Treatment for Cataract

The treatment for the disease depends on the stage/progression of the disease. options include
Spectacles: in early stages of the disease, glasses can be recommended to correct the visual errors caused by the cataract.

Drugs: there are available drugs known as Mydratics that can be taken to help you see things better. Your doctor would prescribe the appropriate one for you.

Surgery: to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a transparent one. This is the main & definitive treatment. It is the cure for cataract. There are different cataract surgery options, but we would not mention all that today.

What happens in Cataract Surgery: What happens here is that, the lens in the eye (which has become cloudy) is then removed in the theatre, and is replaced with a new lens. This is done by an Opthalmologist.
Immediately this is done, the person who has not been seeing all this while would be able to see immediately. It is just like replacing your eyeglasses that has become bad. Only in this case, the glasses are inside your eyes.

Cataract surgery
A man with a recovery bandage over his left eyes after cataract surgery. Image Credits

How long after cataract surgery can you see clearly

Those who undergo a cataract surgery can start noticing improvement in their vision within 48 hours. Some could take one to two weeks before they adjust and settle.

Hospitals in Nigeria where Cataract Surgery can be done

This surgery can be done at all Teaching hospitals and Federal Medical centres (FMCs) in the country. It can also be done in some general hospitals that have the service of an Opthamologist as well as any private hospital owned by a consultant opthalmologist.

What does cataract surgery cost

The cost of this surgery depends on the place where it is done. In most federal Teaching hospitals and FMCs, it cost around eighty thousand Naira ($200 with exchange rate as at August 20, 2020) to have a cataract surgery done for one eye. During outreaches by bthe Opthamology department at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, it can cost as low as N30,000 ($85) to have it done. It might cost a little higher in some private hospitals and other centers.

Prevention of Cataracts

In order to prevent cataracts, we have to prevent or manage the conditions that can lead to cataracts. The include;
Diabetes: The blood sugar should be properly managed by using the recommended Lifestyle & dietary modifications as informed by your doctor, as well as taking your anti-diabetic medications when due.

Radiation: it has been know that prolonged exposure to sunlight can lead to the development of the disease, hence, we should practice the use of sunglasses whenever we are going out on a very sunny day. It would help reduce the risk. If you work in places where radiation is used, you are to ensure the use of proper protective equipments.

Intrauterine infections: Pregnant women are always advised to register for antenatal care as soon as possible at the nearest hospital or health center, so that they can be properly educated on these conditions that can affect their unborn child. Screening & necessary treatments would also be given.

Remember, Cataracts is both Preventable & Curable.
Pls, take that Uncle or Aunty of yours that cannot use their eye to the hospital today, and let’s see if they can become happier!!

Spread the message.

I hope, I have able to explain this topic as easy as possible. Go to hospital and get your eye checked today!

Thanks for reading.

You could also check for other medical conditions affecting the eye below.

Authors

  • Ekwo Linda Ogechukwu attended the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in ituku-ozalla, Enugu state, Nigeria.

  • Obasi Chinedu David attended the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in ituku-ozalla, Enugu state, Nigeria.

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