by Maitri Sharma | 26 Jun 2018
You knew Indians were at higher risk than Europeans and Americans on lifestyle disorders such as cardiovascular and diabetes. However, there is another affliction where Indians score higher eye-ailments, specifically cataracts, one of the country’s largest causes of blindness.
India has among the world’s highest proportion of blind people comprising approximately 12 million against a global total of 39 million. Another 23 million suffer from cataract in India. Cataract remains the leading cause of vision impairment in the country but in the past decade, data shows that the average age of patients going in for cataract surgery has dropped, which is good news. The drop in the age of cataract patients can be because of improved detection, improved access to medical care and also due to better surgical techniques.
Given that technology has made early detection and treatment of cataract possible, it is important to know the warning signs, potential causes, and available treatments.
What are cataracts?
A cataract is the clouding of the lens in the eyes which leads to a decrease in vision. With normal vision, light flows through the eye’s lens making it possible to perceive clear images. But with age, the lens composed of protein and water can become clouded by a cataract, which happens when oxidation affects the proteins and fats in the eye. This film prevents light from passing through, resulting in cloudy or partial vision and in time, as the protein cluster increases, causes complete blindness. Therefore, one should be sensitive to any changes in vision and look out for early symptoms that include blurred vision, glare, halos, poor contrast and generalized visual discomfort.
Vision loss due to Cataracts, if treated on time are completely reversible. However, in India, the problem is compounded and made more complex due to:
Diabetes: Diabetes adversely affects every tissue of the human eye and accelerates cataract formation. It also makes the eye prone to devastating infections after cataract surgery.
Ultraviolet (UV) Light: High levels of UV exposure in our sunny tropical climate are another factor for early Cataract formation and progression.
Ignorance: A majority of people over 60 do not consider cataract to be a serious disease and surprisingly, many believe that it gets better with time. This lack of knowledge can lead to visual impairment and blindness if not treated at the right time.
Younger age: Indians are at a greater risk of developing cataracts at a comparatively younger age than Europeans or Americans. On average, an Indian will develop a cataract almost 14 years before his American or European counterpart.
Poor diet: Indians typically have a high carbohydrate and vegetarian protein diet while their intake of vegetables and fruits are comparatively lower. Vegetables and fruits are the foods that abound in antioxidant vitamins as well as vitamins A, C, and E, lutein, and zeaxanthin that reduce the risk of cataracts.
Shortage of ophthalmologists: Lack of manpower when it comes to the number of ophthalmologists is one of the main reasons for the crisis. In India, there are an estimated 15,000 ophthalmologists, which is well below the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of 1 ophthalmologist per 20,000 population.
Cataracts can be corrected if treated on time and India’s track record of addressing this problem has improved over the last twenty years. Newer and more effective treatments offer new hope to those affected by this disease as the surgery takes a few minutes to administer and the recovery period is minimal.
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