Cataracts

Overview

SEE International provides cataract surgery and education about the condition during our programs around the world.  A cataract is the clouding in the normally transparent lens of the eye. In a healthy, unclouded lens, light is able to pass through to the retina at the back of the eye, allowing us to see detail. As the lens develops cataracts, however, vision becomes blurred, and blindness eventually results.

Each year, we provide free sight-restoring surgeries to thousands of patients who have become blind from cataracts. Give sight now to support our programs that help those with cataracts see again.

Prevalence

According to the World Health Organization, cataracts cause a third of worldwide blindness, affecting approximately 65.2 million people. Cataracts additionally cause moderate to severe vision loss to 52.6 million individuals, 99% of whom live in developing countries.

Although it is a relatively simple condition to treat surgically in the developed world, in many developing countries, access to eye care is extremely limited. Moreover, as populations age and average life expectancy continues to increase worldwide, the number of people with cataracts will only grow more widespread.

A Healthy Eye and an Eye with A Cataract
A Healthy Eye and an Eye with A Cataract

Risk Factors

Biological aging is the most common cause of cataracts, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation, skin diseases, injury, infection, smoking, and genetic factors are also causes. Some children are even born with the condition.

Those living in developing countries, particularly those with agrarian societies, are at increased risk. Individuals who spend much of their day working outdoors without eye protection are exposed to UV-B radiation, which can lead to cataracts.

Risk Factors

Biological aging is the most common cause of cataracts, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation, skin diseases, injury, infection, smoking, and genetic factors are also causes. Some children are even born with the condition.

Those living in developing countries, particularly those with agrarian societies, are at increased risk. Individuals who spend much of their day working outdoors without eye protection are exposed to UV-B radiation, which can lead to cataracts.

Prevention

While there is no way to completely prevent getting cataracts, the following can lessen the likelihood of developing them:

1. Living a healthy lifestyle by reducing smoking and alcohol consumption
2. Avoiding eye trauma by wearing safety goggles
3. Wearing sunglasses to protect eyes from UV radiation

Treatment

Cataract removal is a simple, non-invasive surgical process with a high success rate – 90% of patients report a corrected vision of 20/40 or better afterwards. SEE performs three types of cataract surgery: Phacoemulsification (or “Phaco”), Extra Capsular Cataract Extraction (ECCE) and Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS).

Cataracts in the developing world generally have gone untreated for a longer period of time than in places like the United States. Thus they are usually denser and harder to remove. MSICS is the generally the ideal technique to use, as it allows the doctor to get the more mature cataract out in a shorter amount of time than if they were to use Phaco.

Doctors most commonly use Phaco in the developed world. The technique utilizes an expensive handheld ultrasonic probe, which emulsifies (turns to liquid) the clouded lens, which surgeons then replace with an artificial (man-made) lens. ECCE uses a larger incision than phaco and generally needs stitches and thus is less commonly used. The Manual Small Incision technique improves upon ECCE, in that it does not require stitches. Find out more about MSICS here.

SEE International & Cataracts Around the World

SEE works diligently to reduce the number of cataract cases around the world in the following ways:

  • Performing cataract surgery
  • Teaching appropriate cataract surgical techniques, such as Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery.
  • Training local eye care personnel in ophthalmology in rural and urban areas.
  • Strengthening local health care infrastructure.

More Cataract Resources

Interested in working with SEE to treat cataracts in the developing world?

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Conditions & Diseases

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