Cataracts are most commonly due to aging, but may also occur due to trauma, radiation exposure, be present from birth, or occur following eye surgery for other problems. Risk factors include diabetes, smoking tobacco, prolonged exposure to sunlight, and alcohol. Either clumps of protein or yellow-brown pigment may be deposited in the lens reducing the transmission of light to the retina at the back of the eye. Diagnosis is by an eye examination.
Prevention includes wearing sunglasses and not smoking. Early on the symptoms may be improved with eyeglasses. If this does not help, surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens is the only effective treatment. Surgery is only needed if the cataracts are causing problems. Surgery generally results in an improved quality of life. Cataract surgery is not easily available in many countries, which is especially true for women, those living in rural areas, and those who cannot read.
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of cataract, though considerable overlap occurs. People with nuclear sclerotic or brunescent cataracts often notice a reduction of vision. Those with posterior subcapsular cataracts usually complain of glareas their major symptom.
The severity of cataract formation, assuming no other eye disease is present, is judged primarily by a visual acuity test. The appropriateness of surgery depends on a patient's particular functional and visual needs and other risk factors, all of which may vary widely.
Age is the most common cause. Lens proteins denature and degrade over time, and this process is accelerated by diseases such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension. Environmental factors, including toxins, radiation, and ultraviolet light, have cumulative effects, which are worsened by the loss of protective and restorative mechanisms due to alterations in gene expression and chemical processes within the eye.
Blunt trauma causes swelling, thickening, and whitening of the lens fibers. While the swelling normally resolves with time, the white color may remain. In severe blunt trauma, or injuries which penetrate the eye, the capsule in which the lens sits can be damaged. This allows fluid from other parts of the eye to rapidly enter the lens leading to swelling and then whitening, obstructing light from reaching the retina at the back of the eye. Cataracts may develop in 0.7 to 8.0% of cases following electrical injuries.
Ultraviolet light, specifically UVB, has been shown to cause cataracts, and some evidence indicates sunglasses worn at an early age can slow its development in later life. Microwave radiation has also been found to cause cataracts. The mechanism is unclear, but it may include changes in heat-sensitive enzymes that normally protect cell proteins in the lens. Another possible mechanism is direct damage to the lens from pressure waves induced in the aqueous humor.
Cataracts have been associated with ionizing radiation such as X-rays. The addition of damage to the DNA of the lens cells has been considered. Finally, electric and heat injuries denature and whiten the lens as a result of direct protein coagulation. This same process makes the clear albumin of an egg become white and opaque after cooking. Cataracts of this type are often seen in glassblowersand furnace workers. Lasers of sufficient power output are known to damage the eyes and skin.
The genetic component is strong in the development of cataracts, most commonly through mechanisms that protect and maintain the lens. The presence of cataracts in childhood or early life can occasionally be due to a particular syndrome. Examples of chromosome abnormalities associated with cataracts include 1q21.1 deletion syndrome, cri-du-chat syndrome, Down syndrome, Patau's syndrome, trisomy 18 (Edward's syndrome), and Turner's syndrome, and in the case of neurofibromatosis type 2, juvenile cataract on one or both sides may be noted. Examples of single-gene disorderinclude Alport's syndrome, Conradi's syndrome, myotonic dystrophy, and oculocerebrorenal syndrome or Lowe syndrome.
The skin and the lens have the same embryological origin and so can be affected by similar diseases. Those with atopic dermatitis and eczema occasionally develop shield ulcers cataracts. Ichthyosisis an autosomal recessive disorder associated with cuneiform cataracts and nuclear sclerosis. Basal-cell nevus and pemphigus have similar associations.
Cigarette smoking has been shown to double the rate of nuclear sclerotic cataracts and triple the rate of posterior subcapsular cataracts. Evidence is conflicting over the effect of alcohol. Some surveys have shown a link, but others which followed patients over longer terms have not.
Some drugs, such as corticosteroids, can induce cataract development. People with schizophrenia often have risk factors for lens opacities (such as diabetes, hypertension, and poor nutrition) butantipsychotic medications are unlikely to contribute to cataract formation. Miotics and triparanol may increase the risk.
Nearly every person who undergoes a vitrectomy — without ever having had cataract surgery — will experience progression of nuclear sclerosis at 6-months and 12-month after the operation. This may be because the native vitreous humor is significantly different to the solutions used to replace the vitreous (vitreous substitutes), such as BSS Plus. This may also be because the native vitreous humour contains ascorbic acid which helps neutralize oxidative damage to the lens and because traditional vitreous substitutes do not contain ascorbic acid. As such, for phakic patients requiring a vitrectomy it is becoming increasingly common for ophthalmologists to offer the vitrectomy with a combined prophylactic cataract surgery procedure to prophylactically prevent cataract formation.
· Metabolic and nutrition diseases
· Genetic syndromes
· Secondary to other eye diseases:
Cross-sectional view, showing the position of
the human lens
Cataracts may be partial or complete, stationary or progressive, or hard or soft. The main types of age-related cataracts are nuclear sclerosis, cortical, and posterior subcapsular.
Nuclear sclerosis, the most common type of cataract, involves the central or 'nuclear' part of the lens. Over time, this becomes hard or 'sclerotic' due to condensation of lens nucleus and deposition of brown pigment within the lens. In advanced stages, it is called brunescent cataract. This type of cataract can present with a shift to nearsightedness and causes problems with distance vision, while reading is less affected.
Cortical cataracts are due to the lens cortex (outer layer) becoming opaque. They occur when changes in the fluid contained in the periphery of the lens causes fissuring. When these cataracts are viewed through an ophthalmoscope or other magnification system, the appearance is similar to white spokes of a wheel. Symptoms often include problems with glare and light scatter at night.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts are cloudy at back of the lens adjacent to the capsule (or bag) in which the lens sits. Because light becomes more focused toward the back of the lens, they can cause disproportionate symptoms for their size.
An immature cataract has some transparent protein, but with a mature cataract, all the lens protein is opaque. In a hypermature or Morgagnian cataract, the lens proteins have become liquid. Congenital cataract, which may be detected in adulthood, has a different classification and includes lamellar, polar, and sutural cataracts.
Cataracts can be classified by using the lens opacities classification system LOCS III. In this system, cataracts are classified based on type as nuclear, cortical, or posterior. The cataracts are further classified based on severity on a scale from 1 to 5. The LOCS III system is highly reproducible.