Eye experts raise concerns about cataracts as age and diabetes raise threat levels in the region

30 June 2014 (Dubai, United Arab Emirates): According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cataracts are the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in the world (47.9%) and their prevalence increases each year as the world’s population ages. Eye experts at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai are warning about the rising incidence of cataracts in the GCC’s young but ageing population (over 65 segment growing from 1.2% in 2015 to 14.2% of the GCC population by 2050) and especially amongst the large diabetic community in the GCC, where the risk of cataracts is much higher. Age and diabetes are the two main risk factors for cataracts.

Cataracts cause gradual blurring of the vision. In 2002, cataracts caused reversible blindness in more than 17 million of the 37 million blind individuals worldwide; this figure is projected to reach 40 million by 2020. In the Gulf region, an ageing population and high incidence of diabetes is raising concerns among eye experts.

‘Cataract’ is an English word for a large waterfall and is also a very apt term used to describe a gradual loss of vision as the lens of the eye becomes opaque and so is like looking through a waterfall. Cataracts are cloudy opacifications of the lens of the eye that interfere with vision. Cataracts can be caused by a wide variety of factors. The lens of the eye is made up of cells that contain protein and with increasing age and after damage to the lens cells by trauma, illness or certain medications over time the protein becomes denser and the lens may start to cloud over.Age is the single most important risk factor for cataracts, which are rare before the age of 40 – although babies can also be born with cataracts. Diabetes is one of the other key factors that result in the development of cataracts; people with diabetes mellitus statistically face a 60% greater risk of developing cataracts.

As with most complications of diabetes, maintaining good control of blood sugar levels will help to reduce risk. Research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes who lower their HbA1c level by just 1% can reduce their risk of cataracts by 19%.Dr Edoardo Zinicola, Consultant Vitreoretinal Surgeon and Medical Retina Specialist at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, the first overseas branch of the world’s largest eye hospital, comments: “We cannot turn back time and even the young population of the Middle East will eventually age, potentially creating a wave of chronic disease – principally diabetes, which will create this perfect storm for cataracts and other serious eye complications. Cataracts generally develop and progress slowly and can eventually lead to significant vision problems. The good news is that cataracts can be treated very effectively with modern surgery to remove the cloudy lens and insert a high quality lens implant. Once treated, cataracts do not return.”

Moorfields is inviting the community and people with diabetes for cataract screening, diagnosis and assessment, as well as surgery where appropriate, and is offering special rates during the summer months.

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