What Causes Cataracts?
A cataract is a common condition in which a normally clear eye lens becomes cloudy, causing blurry vision similar to looking through a foggy window. A cataract occurs when there is a buildup of proteins in the lens, creating protein clumps. These clumps, or deposits, prevent light from passing clearly through the lens, thus disrupting normal vision.
There are several reasons why a cataract may form, including:
Aging – The eyes mainly consist of water and protein. As we grow older, some of the protein may form chunks and cloud a certain area of the eye’s lens. This phenomenon is called a cataract. It may grow over time and cause partial or complete vision loss. The good news is the condition is usually treatable through cataract surgery. The process involves removing the natural lens of the eye then replacing it with an intraocular lens.
Traumatic Cataract – Another common cause of cataracts is trauma: blunt or penetrating ocular trauma, electric shock, chemical burns or ionizing radiation. A traumatic cataract can develop even years after these types of eye injuries.
Diabetes – People with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts. The aqueous humor provides nutrients to our eye’s lens, including oxygen and glucose. A person who suffers from diabetes will not have full control of their glucose levels which may result in high levels of sugar in the aqueous humor. This can lead to swelling, simultaneously affecting vision. Likewise, the lens inside the eye has an enzyme that converts glucose into sorbitol. This sugar alcohol can affect both cells and protein and may eventually result in cataracts.
Congenital Cataract – While cataracts are normally associated with the aging process, there are instances of cataracts in newborns. These congenital cataracts can develop for a number of different reasons, including inherited tendencies, infection (such as measles or rubella), metabolic problems, diabetes, trauma, inflammation or drug reactions.
High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure (HBP) is known to cause elevated inflammation which may result in cataracts. Aside from cataracts, HBP may also lead to age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Smoking – Experts suggest that smokers have higher chances of forming cataracts than non-smokers. The toxins from cigarette smoke cause oxidation in cells, including those in the eye lens.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption – Studies have shown that high alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of cataracts. Heavy drinking induces microsomal enzyme cytochrome in the liver. Metabolism of this element produces free radicals which may lead to chunking together of proteins in the eye. This then leads to cataract formation or vision loss.
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of cataracts, it is important to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible. Cataracts are very treatable and cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the country.