What are Cataracts? | Can Cataracts Cause Blindness? | Orbis

What are Cataracts?

Can cataracts cause blindness? Actually, they are the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment around the world. But what are cataracts, what are their main causes and what can be done to treat or prevent them?

What Is a Cataract?

A cataract develops when protein in the eye’s lens builds up to form a layer, blocking the light from passing into the eye. The cataracts turn the lens from clear to yellow, brown or even milky white

Cataracts can lead to blurred vision and eventual blindness.

Can Cataracts Cause Blindness?

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, not only cataracts cause blindness, but they account for around 40% of global blindness.

What Causes Cataracts?

There are a number of factors that can cause or increase the risk of cataracts. These include:

  • Age
  • Genetic disorders
  • Eye injury
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Uveitis

Commonly, most cases of cataracts occur in older people, but they can appear at any age.

Cataracts in children is known as childhood cataracts. Some babies are born with cataracts, often due to environmental or genetic disorders. This is known as congenital cataracts.

If cataracts in children are not treated in time, the child can become permanently blind as their vision fails to develop properly.

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Having a cataract is like seeing a dirty spot on a window. As this dirty spot becomes bigger, you can see less and less until you can no longer see anything.

There are a number of signs of cataracts to look out for. The symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Clouded or blurred vision
  • Squinting or closing of eyes in response to bright light
  • Headaches developing from bright light
  • Halos and glare in the field of vision
A child cataract patient before surgery to remove it

Not just an age-related condition: children and babies can develop cataracts too

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Cataracts will not go away on their own and there are currently no medications that can restore clear vision in the eye.

The World Health Organisation say that prescription glasses or contact lenses are the most cost-effective way to improve a person’s eyesight in the early stages of cataracts.

The only way to remove a cataract is through cataract surgery. This removes the clouded natural lens and replaces it with an artificial lens. The eye is never removed during the process.

To prevent permanent poor vision or even blindness, children who are born with cataract must be treated within the first few months.

How Is Orbis Tackling Cataracts?

Orbis is fighting blindness caused by cataracts by:

  • Training local partners on our Flying Eye Hospital
  • Running e-learning courses on Cybersight which improve knowledge and education as well as offering training and support to eye teams
  • Working with partners across the health service to establish and strengthen existing care
  • Working at a community level, training and educating people about the symptoms of cataracts and referring them for treatment as required

A tutorial of phaco surgery put together by our Cybersight team

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