If you thought cataract troubled only the elderly (65+) population, you are highly mistaken. With diabetes becoming common in our population, we are seeing more and more younger people coming in — those in their 40s and 50s — and seeking treatments and interventions. Diabetic people get their cataract earlier. Sometimes even those who are borderline diabetics tend to develop this condition much earlier than expected.
The other risk factor is the use of steroids. Some chronic illnesses and allergies, too, could predispose people to cataract. Injuries can lead to what is called traumatic cataract. Chronic eye disease can also trigger an early onset of the condition.
Cataract is when the natural lens of the eye gets cloudy and you can no longer focus on objects in your range of sight but see them blurred. That’s when you know you have cataract. In the early stages, we usually give glasses. If, after a point, the glasses don’t improve your vision or they keep needing adjustments, we do the surgery. If untreated, it could lead to blindness but thankfully, there are many treatment options today to address it.
The current treatment for cataract in India is surgery but a lot of innovation has taken place. We have newer techniques, newer lenses. Nowadays we conduct micro-incision cataract surgeries. This involves making a small opening in the front layer of the eye which is called the cornea. We put the instrument through these small openings — and these are one or at most two millimetre openings — and using ultrasonic energy we take out the cataract. We suck it out, roll up the artificial lens and place it in the same place we had taken out the cataract from. Depending on which lens is inserted, tri-focal or multi-focal, the patient won’t be needing a reading glass after surgery. Post-surgery recovery is very fast and people tend to drive home after surgery. It’s painless, you have to put eye drops for three to four weeks but overall recovery is fast.
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around a new study that investigates the use of a chemical compound to clear cataract-clouded lenses in mice without surgery. The compound they used was oxysterol, which is an oxygenated derivative of cholesterol that plays a role in the regulation and transport of cholesterol. The study was published in the journal, Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. The target of the treatment was the αA- and αB-crystallin mutations that often cause cataracts in aging. The VP1-001 improved lens opacity for 61 per cent of the eye lenses the researchers treated. They observed a 1.0 improvement in the opacity grade of 46 per cent in the treated mice.
But I will say a lot still needs to be clinically and scientifically proven for medical value to be attributed to it. The research is still in the trial phase and is preliminary. Human trials are yet to be conducted. At the moment there are no proven studies on the use of this drug and the possible benefits. At the moment, no matter what the findings, the research doesn’t have any proven value. Besides, the results focus on only one cause of cataracts.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 65.2 million people worldwide are living with cataracts, the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment worldwide. We must keep looking at safe and accessible interventions.