General information on Cataract
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 historical 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 sense of “obstuction”.
Cataracts develop from a variety of reasons, including long-term ultraviolet exposure, exposure to radiation, secondary effects of diseases such as diabetes, and advanced age; they are usually a result of denaturation of lens proteins. Genetic factors are often a cause of congenital cataracts and positive family history may also play a role in predisposing someone to cataracts at an earlier age, a phenomenon of “anticipation” in pre-senile cataracts. Cataracts may also be produced by eye injury or physical trauma.
A study among Icelandair pilots showed commercial airline pilots as three times more likely to develop cataracts than people with non-flying jobs. This is thought to be caused by excessive exposure to radiation coming from outer space. Cataracts are also unusually common in persons exposed to infrared radiation, such as glassblowers who suffer from “exfoliation syndrome”. Exposure to microwave radiation can cause cataracts.