Cataracts are one of the major causes of loss of vision. Most people think of cataracts as an old persons disease but this is not strictly true. This article will cover what causes the condition and who is most likely to get cataracts.
The development of cataracts occurs when the lenses in the eyes become cloudy. Generally, the cataracts in each eye develop at a different pace meaning that one eye will have better vision than the other. It is possible to treat the eyes provided the problem is caught early enough.
The lens in an eye is just like the lens you would find on a camera. It allows light to pass through and focuses the light at the back of the eye on the retina. The retina passes this information to the optic nerve that sends it to the brain for interpretation. In humans, the lens is formed from a transparent protein. Cataracts develop when the cells that make up the transparent protein lose their rigidity and start to drift. This often results in a noticeable change in a person's vision. Over time the drifting cells tend to congregate together forming a thick concentration of protein cells. This has the affect of making the lenses opaque or cloudy in these areas. This can affect the ability of the lens to do its job.
As the problem continues without treatment, more of the protein will join together making the lens completely clouded. Light will not pass through to the retina and the person will be blind. Again, this is preventable if treated in time.
Cataracts occur because of the nature of the lens. It is unlike most other parts of the body because it does not have a direct blood supply that nourishes the lens and keeps it healthy. Instead it gets it's nourishment from the aqueous humor that is located behind the lens in the eyeball.
Cataracts will develop in the lens because of damage caused by free radicals. And because the lens has no blood supply it cannot replenish the cells in the lenses as effectively as other parts of the body. Free radicals react with the cells of the body causing them to decay or breakdown. The body's reaction to free radicals is thought to lead to diseases like cancer occurring. In the case of the lens, the result is a cataract.
Free radicals are thought to be created by the foods we consume. However there are many of ways that they can enter the body. A leading cause is exposure to sunlight. More free radicals build up in the body as we get older leading to more and more cell damage. In the case of the eyes, this is why we associate cataracts with old age. However there are many other factors that can increase the risk of cataracts developing.
Exposure to sunlight, or rather the ultraviolet light in sunlight, creates free radicals that damage the lens. Thus the importance of good sunglasses can't be stressed enough, especially if you live in a climate that has plenty of days of sunlight. Or if you work outdoors.
Poor nutrition and/or poor digestion of the foods that are eaten. Poor quality foods can introduce all kinds of free radicals. Being unable to metabolize the foods also keeps free radicals in the system.
Smoking will increase the chances of developing cataracts.
Contracting other diseases can increase the chance of developing cataracts. For instance diabetes weakens the nervous system and circulation of the body. This can lead to problems with the eyes, particularly cataracts.
It is true that age and genes can influence the chances of getting cataracts but by limiting your exposure to some of the factors listed above you can minimize your risk of developing cataracts.