Cataract: causes, risk factors and treatment

He visited the local pharmacy several times to change his reading glasses, but there was no improvement. One morning, his wife noticed that the black part of his left eye appeared whitish and cloudy, prompting  a visit to an eye specialist.

The eye specialist examined Mr. Johnbull and told him he had cataract in his left eye. Surprised, Mr. Johnbull noted that the only medication he took regularly was an oral steroid for rheumatism. 

What is Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye, causing people with the condition to have clouded vision similar to looking through foggy glass. Cataracts often develop slowly, increasingly blurring vision as it fogs up more parts of the lens. With time, it may completely cloud the lens and cause blindness.

So, what is the lens?  This is the tiny “glass” in the eye that helps to focus light penetrating the eye. As one ages, however, the lens has a tendency to become less flexible, less transparent, and thicker. Subsequently, the lens may begin to break down and clump together, forming a cloud (cataract) within it.   

Cataract, therefore, blocks light from passing through the lens, impairing the eye’s ability to form clear images of objects. This manifests as blurred vision. Advanced cataract is readily seen as a dense white patch in the part of the eye that is normally black. Cataracts usually affect both eyes, but may be worse in one eye than the other.

Causes of Cataract

Most cataracts develop as a result of age-related changes to the lens; however, cataracts may also be caused by genetic defects to the lens, causing symptoms during childhood.

Risk Factors of Cataract

Although cataracts result from age-related changes to the lens, some conditions put you at a higher risk of having it. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Previous eye injury
  • Prolonged use of steroid medications
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight.


Mr. Johnbull is a retired construction worker who spent a large part of his career constructing high-rise buildings in the city center. This might have exposed him to excessive sunlight, putting him at risk of cataracts. Further, he had been on steroid medication for a long time.

Treatment of Cataract

Surgery is needed to remove eye cataract. However, timing of the surgery is critical. Eye specialists often advice waiting for cataract to “mature” before removing it. In cases where both eyes are involved, they also recommend operating on one eye first and waiting for that to heal before fixing the other. Cataract surgery is particularly important if the cataract is impairing quality of life, such as driving and reading. You and your doctor will decide the right time for surgery.

Cataract surgery is generally safe. It involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an artificial one. The artificial lens is placed in the same position as the natural lens, where it heals up and fuses with the rest of the eye.

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