This condition can be hard to detect because cataracts are painless. However, over a period of years the vision becomes progressively more blurred. Seeing in dim light or at night becomes especially difficult. Images may be distorted and colors may fade.
Other problems associated with cataracts include sensitivity to glare, nearsightedness, the appearance of halos around lights, double vision and multiple images in one eye. Cataracts usually affect both eyes, but typically one eye will be worse than the other.
The main cause of cataracts is aging. When cataracts are due to age alone, the symptoms are usually mild and do not interfere with vision to any significant proportion.
Other factors can lead to cataracts forming. These include diabetes, Down's syndrome, galactosaemia (an abnormal accumulation of the sugar called galactose, a constituent of the milk sugar lactose). Other factors include eye injury, concussion, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and extensive exposure to sunlight and other forms of radiation.
These factors can also make cataracts caused initially by aging to be more severe.
Cataracts can be congenital, or present at birth. Some infections in the mother's body during pregnancy (such as rubella, herpes simplex, and toxoplasmosis) can increase the risk for cataracts.
Several methods may be used to help reduce the risk of developing cataracts, delay the onset of this condition, or help to reduce the overall severity of how cataracts affect vision. These include getting regular eye exams at least every two years and seeing an eye doctor immediately if changes in vision are noticed. Early detection and treatment can minimize damage to the eyes due to cataracts.
The development of cataracts may be prevented by keeping blood sugar under control. Good antenatal care can help reduce the risk of infections that can cause congenital cataracts.
Reducing exposure to sunlight by wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors during midday. Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
Eating foods high in antioxidants may protect against cataracts. Antioxidants destroy free radicals, destructive molecules that are thought to accelerate the aging process and promote several degenerative diseases, including cataracts.
An eye doctor (ophthalmologist) can diagnosis cataracts based on age, symptoms, and medical history, along with a comprehensive eye examination.
Surgery is the only real cure for cataracts but it is not always necessary, particularly if the cataracts are mild. Visual aids can also help improve eyesight. It is never too late for surgery. Even if a person's vision has been impacted by cataracts for a long period of time, it will not decrease the effectiveness of the surgery.
The antioxidants lutein, vitamin С and selenium, in particular, reduce the risk of cataracts. These nutrients can be found in supplements or in foods such as green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, grains and seafood.
Alcohol increases the risk of cataracts, so drink only in moderation - no more than two drinks daily for men and one for women. (One drink equals 24 cl/8 fl.oz beer, 15 d/5 fl.oz wine, or 4.5 cl/1.5 fl.oz distilled spirits.)
Until a person undergoes cataract surgery, a stronger prescription for eyeglasses can help to improve visual acuity. Eyeglass lenses can also be specially treated to reduce glare for cataract patients. A hand-held magnifying lens or or other aids can make it easier to do close work or read. Using brighter light bulbs and more light fixtures at home and at work can make the vision better by allowing images to be more distinct.
Herbs can also help this condition. They include:
- Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). As far back as World War I, British fliers munched bilberries before missions to sharpen their vision. Bilberry has many botanical relatives, including blueberry, cranberry and huckleberry, and similar chemicals occur in other fruits such as blackberry, raspberry, grape, plum and wild cherry. All have reputations for aiding vision.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria). Two cups of catnip (or mint) tea a day may significantly reduce your likelihood of developing this problem. Hot catnip tea in winter and iced catnip tea in summer are quite tasty. In addition to helping prevent cataracts, this herb is a mild tranquillizer.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). A mint relative of catnip, rosemary contains more than a dozen antioxidants. It also contains at least four other known cataract fighters. Use rosemary liberally in cooking. It's especially good on roasted potatoes and is often used in chicken dishes.
- Brazil nut (Bertholettia excelsa). These nuts contain generous amounts of vitamin E, plus the essential trace mineral selenium, which boosts vitamin E's antioxidant benefits. Selenium levels in the eye lenses of people with cataracts are a mere 15 per cent of normal, suggesting that selenium supplementation or the selenium from Brazil nuts might help prevent cataracts. At least, it might slow their progression. The average Brazil nut contains the American RDA for selenium.
- Carrot (Daucus carota). There's a fair amount of folklore claiming that carrots are good for vision. As it turns out, it's more than folklore. One researcher at the pharmaceutical firm Hoffmann-La Roche cites more than 30 research studies providing evidence that carotenoids help prevent what he calls the three Cs: cancer, cardiovascular disease and cataracts. Carotenoids (including beta- carotene) are the compounds that give carrots their orange colour.
- Onion (Allium cepa). Onion is one of the best sources of quercetin, a compound that has been shown in studies to help prevent cataracts in people with diabetes.
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Purslane is high in all of the nutrients that help prevent cataracts - vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and other potent antioxidants, notably one known as glutathione. Only a half-cup of fresh purslane contains healthy amounts of beta-carotene and vitamins C and E.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa). In addition to high amounts of vitamins C and E and carotenoids, turmeric contains many other antioxidants. Turmeric is a key ingredient in many curry spice blends.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Ginger is another good source of antioxidants.
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