Understanding Cataracts

Cataracts Awareness Month

As we celebrate Cataract Awareness Month, it’s crucial to shed light on this common yet often misunderstood condition. The term “cataracts” is often used in the plural form rather than “cataract” because it refers to the condition that can affect one or both eyes. Cataracts, which cloud the eye’s natural lens, affect millions of people worldwide, including a significant portion of the South African population. In South Africa alone, approximately 160,000 cataract surgeries are performed each year, highlighting the prevalence of this condition. 

What is Cataracts?

Cataracts occur when proteins in the eye’s lens begin to clump together, causing cloudy or blurred vision. This cloudiness can interfere with daily activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. Though cataracts develop slowly, they can eventually lead to significant vision loss if left untreated. 

Causes of Cataracts

Several factors contribute to the development of cataracts:

  1. Aging: The most common cause, as the lens naturally becomes less flexible and transparent over time.
  2. Sun Exposure: UV radiation can damage the proteins in the lens.
  3. Medical Conditions: Diabetes and hypertension can increase the risk.
  4. Lifestyle Choices: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can accelerate cataract formation.
  5. Injury: Trauma to the eye can cause cataracts to develop.

Symptoms to Watch For

Cataracts often develop slowly and painlessly, so early detection can be challenging. Common symptoms include:

  • Blurred or cloudy vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Seeing "halos" around lights
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Fading or yellowing of colors

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's essential to see an eye care professional for a comprehensive eye exam.

Prevention Tips

While some risk factors like aging are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  1. Regular Eye Exams: Early detection through routine check-ups can help manage the condition.
  2. Protect Your Eyes: Wear sunglasses that block UV rays and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.
  3. Healthy Diet: Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as leafy greens, fruits, and nuts, can support eye health.
  4. Manage Health Conditions: Keep diabetes and blood pressure under control through regular monitoring and medication.
  5. Avoid Smoking and Limit Alcohol: Both can contribute to the development of cataracts.

Treatment Options

When cataracts interferes with daily activities, surgery is often recommended. Cataract surgery is a common and generally safe procedure where the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one. This surgery has a high success rate and can significantly improve vision.

In addition to conventional treatments, several integrative herbal remedies have shown promise in supporting eye health and potentially slowing cataract progression:

  1. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus): Rich in antioxidants, bilberry may help protect the eyes from oxidative stress, which can contribute to cataract formation.
  2. Ginkgo Biloba: Known for its circulation-boosting properties, ginkgo biloba may enhance blood flow to the eyes and provide antioxidant protection.
  3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may benefit eye health.
  4. Green Tea (Camellia sinensis): High in catechins, green tea has strong antioxidant properties that can help protect the lens from oxidative damage.
  5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil, flaxseed, and chia seeds, omega-3s are essential for overall eye health and may reduce the risk of cataracts.

Coping with Cataracts: A General Approach

Many people living with cataracts seek a combination of conventional and holistic treatments to manage their condition and maintain their quality of life. Here's a general overview of how individuals commonly approach cataract care:

  1. Medical Consultation and Surgery: The first step often involves consulting an ophthalmologist to understand the severity of the cataracts and explore surgical options. Many opt for cataract surgery, which has a high success rate in restoring clear vision.

  2. Dietary Adjustments: Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants, like leafy greens, berries, and nuts, can help protect the eyes from further oxidative stress. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and flaxseed, are also beneficial for eye health.

  3. Herbal Supplements: Some people integrate herbal remedies like bilberry, ginkgo biloba, and turmeric into their daily regimen to support eye health and potentially slow the progression of cataracts. These supplements are chosen for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  4. Lifestyle Changes: Wearing UV-protective sunglasses, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption are common lifestyle adjustments that help manage cataract symptoms and prevent further damage.

  5. Regular Eye Exams: Routine check-ups are essential for monitoring the condition and making timely decisions about treatment options.

Cataracts may be a natural part of aging, but with awareness and proactive measures, we can manage and treat this condition effectively. During Cataract Awareness Month, let's spread the word, encourage regular eye exams, and support those living with cataracts. Clear vision is not just a luxury; it's a vital part of our quality of life.


American Academy of Ophthalmology. (n.d.). What are cataracts? Retrieved from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Cataracts. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790

National Eye Institute. (n.d.). Cataracts. Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/cataracts

Reinis, M., & Pilmane, M. (2017). Herbal Medicines for Ocular Disorders. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2760428

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