A cataract is an opacity that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye or in its envelope. Early on in the development of age-related cataract the power of the crystalline lens may be increased, causing near-sightedness (myopia), and the gradual yellowing and opacification of the lens may reduce the perception of blue colours. Cataracts typically progress slowly to cause vision loss and are potentially blinding if untreated. Moreover, with time the cataract cortex liquefies to form a milky white fluid in a Morgagnian Cataract, and can cause severe inflammation if the lens capsule ruptures and leaks. Untreated, the cataract can cause phacomorphic glaucoma. Very advanced cataracts with weak zonules are liable to dislocation anteriorly or posteriorly. Such spontaneous posterior dislocations (akin to the earliest surgical procedure of couching) in ancient times were regarded as a blessing from the heavens, because it restored some perception of light in the bilaterally affected patients.
Cataract derives from the Latin cataracta meaning “waterfall” and the Greek kataraktes and katarrhaktes, from katarassein meaning “to dash down” (kata-, “down”; arassein, “to strike, dash”). As rapidly running water turns white, the term may later have been used metaphorically to describe the similar appearance of mature ocular opacities. In Latin, cataracta had the alternate meaning, “portcullis”, so it is also possible that the name came about through the senseof “obstruction”.
Cataracts may be partial or complete, stationary or progressive, hard or soft.
Some drugs can induce cataract development, such as Corticosteroids and Ezetimibe
There are various types of cataracts, e.g. nuclear, cortical, mature, hypermature. Cataracts are also classified by their location, e.g. posterior (classically due to steroid use) and anterior (common senile) cataract related to aging.
In the United States, age-related lenticular changes have been reported in 42% of those between the ages of 52 to 64, 60% of those between the ages 65 and 74, and 91% of those between the ages of 75 and 85.
The most effective and common treatment is to surgically remove the cloudy lens. There are two types of surgery that can be used to remove cataracts: extra-capsular (extracapsular cataract extraction, or ECCE) and intra-capsular (intracapsular cataract extraction, or ICCE).
Extra-capsular (ECCE) surgery consists of removing the lens but leaving the majority of the lens capsule intact. High frequency sound waves (phacoemulsification) are sometimes used to break up the lens before extraction.
Intra-capsular (ICCE) surgery involves removing the entire lens of the eye, including the lens capsule, but it is rarely performed in modern practice. In either extra-capsular surgery or intra-capsular surgery, the cataractous lens is removed and replaced with a plastic lens (an intraocular lens implant) which stays in the eye permanently.
Cataract operations are usually performed using a local anaesthetic and the patient is allowed to go home the same day. Recent improvements in intraocular technology now allow cataract patients to choose a multifocal lens to create a visual environment in which they are less dependent on glasses. Under some medical systems multifocal lenses cost extra. Traditional intraocular lenses are monofocal.
Complications after cataract surgery, including endophthalmitis, posterior capsular opacification and retinal detachment, are possible.
In ICCE there is the issue of the Jack in the box phenomenon where the patient has to wear aphakic glasses - alternatives include contact lenses but these can prove to be high maintenance, particularly in dusty areas.
Research is scant and mixed but weakly positive for the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin. Bilberry extract shows promise in rat models and in clinical studies.