Cataract, called in Sanskrit as linganaasha or timira, is one of the leading causes for blindness today. Almost 42% of all persons who lose their sight later in their lives do so because of the onset of cataract.
It is an age-related disease, i.e. it occurs as the age of the person advances. Most cataract cases commence at the age of 60 years. It is so common that about 70% of the people who have crossed the age of 75 years have some form of cataract of the eye.
However, the prevention and even the treatment of cataract are very simple, though it may not provide the person with the exact vision as before. Whatever be the case, it is absolutely vital to know about cataract from an early age and take suitable measures to arm oneself against the disease.
In simple terms, cataract or linganaasha is the cloudiness of the lens of the eye. The eye lens is an internal elastic part of the eye which is the most vital component for the reception of normal vision. It is perfectly transparent to allow the light rays to pass through it. But as the age of a person advances, the eye lens may lose its transparency and become opaque. This condition is called as cataract.
According to Ayurveda, linganaasha is a vata dosha disorder. Vata dosha is related with the air element. Hence, an exacerbation in the vata dosha will lead to drying up. When the vata dosha in the body is vitiated, the eye lens loses its moisture and suppleness. Due to this, the eye lens becomes opaque, leading to a cataract.
The various clinical causes for the development of cataract are as follows:-
Advancing age – The most common cause of all cataracts is advancing age. As the age of the person advances, the eye lens becomes opaque and cloudy. Also, with growing age, there is a change in the proportions of the proteins in the eye lens. This leads to senile cataracts.
Physical damage to the eye – Sometimes foreign bodies entering the eye can cause too much damage to the eye lens capsule. This can cause a type of cataract called as traumatic cataract. This cataract is seen mostly in people whose occupation may entail hazards to the eyes, such as welders and people working in glass furnaces.
Other diseases – Some diseases like diabetes mellitus can cause cataracts in the long run. People with emphysema and asthma can also develop cataract. However this cataract is due to the prolonged steroid medication that these people have to use, and not the disease itself.
Congenital cataracts – If the mother had German measles during pregnancy, then there is a chance that the baby born will have cataract at birth.
Medications for the eye – Several medicines for the eye, in the form of eye drops especially, can cause cataracts in the eye in the long run.
Smoking – Smoking really does cloud the eyes, as the common proverb goes. Too much smoking can lead to opacity of the eye lens, causing cataract.
Based on the causes of the cataract, there are five important types of cataracts seen among humans. The following is a list of these types of cataract:-
Cataract can be very easily diagnosed by the presence of several symptoms. Some of the very prominent symptoms in all forms of cataracts are as follows:-
The vision becomes hazier day by day, and it becomes difficult to focus on objects.
Eyes become very sensitive to light.
The eyes require optical glasses, which need frequent number changes.
There may be double vision in one of the eyes.
Dimmer circles are seen around light sources, giving rise to a halo effect.
Reading becomes difficult without intense illumination.
It is very difficult to see anything in poor light conditions.
Colors seem yellowed and faded.
The pupils begin to grow milky white progressively, day by day.
Cataract is actually a very simple disorder to diagnose and treat. Still, a large number of people are neglecting the issue. Ignoring the symptoms of early cataract can lead to a large number of complications in the future. The most dangerous of the complications is that cataract can cause total blindness if left untreated. Statistics show that, within 10 years, most untreated cataracts can convert into total blindness of one or both the eyes.
Cataract is a non communicable disease. It cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
Since the most important cause of cataracts is advancing age, it is not possible to prevent them totally. However, some steps can be taken in order to reduce the chances of contracting cataracts:-
Have a regular eye checkup done. Especially if you have crossed the age of 60 years, you need to be more vigilant.
Excessive exposure to the heat and sunlight must be avoided by people of all ages. This can cause excessive wear and tear of the eye lens.
Quit smoking. Smoking is a leading cause of cataracts in the old age.
People who have conditions like diabetes should adhere quite diligently to the mode of treatment given by the doctor.
Avoid direct contact with toxic fumes and do not continue eye medications for prolonged periods of time.
Do not expose your eyes to X-rays, microwaves and infrared radiation.
Never stare directly at any source of light. Adjust the lighting in your homes in such a manner that the source of light is not seen directly. Use white and milky sources of light rather than incandescent bulbs, as their filaments become too luminous to the human eye.
Wear proper and genuine protective eye gear on beaches, especially in sunny weather.
Pregnant women must take all precautions to prevent the affliction of German measles
A proper diet can go a long way in the prevention of cataract. The following are some guidelines:-
Vitamin A foods are very important to maintain normal ocular health and vision. This is due to the presence of beta carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. Carrots are the best sources of vitamin A for maintaining ocular health.
Vitamin C is vital to the health of the eye as it is present in high concentrations in the eye lens. Vitamin C is an antioxidant; it prevents the oxidative damage of the lens. Foods such as amla, oranges, limes, etc. that are rich in vitamin C must be included in the diet.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant and must be included in the diet. Almost all foods contain vitamin E.
Oils must be avoided.
The diet must contain copious amounts of grains and legumes as they provide the necessary amino acids (proteins) for the health of the eye lens.
There are several herbs used since ancient times for the prevention and the treatment of cataracts. The following is a list of some popular Ayurvedic herbs with their actions on the human body.
In addition to the various herbs mentioned above, there are several more Ayurvedic preparations that have efficacy in reducing cataracts:-
(i) Maha Triphala ghrita – The main ingredients of Maha Triphala ghrita are triphala and cow’s ghee. The roles of these two ingredients are as follows:-
a) Triphala nourishes the nerves and tissues of the eyeball, including the eye lens. The amla present in the triphala is already discussed above as a rich source of vitamin C.
b) Cow’s ghee balances the vitiation of the vata dosha and normalizes it.
(ii) Triphala choorna – Triphala by itself is also quite beneficial in cataract. Triphala means ‘three fruits’. In this case, the three fruits are:-
Triphala must be taken with water after being soaked for 12 hours.