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“Five Fold Increase in Cataract Cases among Elders in Chennai”

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Chennai: “There has been over a fivefold increase in the number of cataract cases in the city, especially in the age group of 50-70 years, during the past one year. For every 100 outpatients who visit private hospitals, anywhere from 40-60 are diagnosed with cataract conditions, most of them being end-stage cataracts – this number used to be just 10 per 100 outpatients on average during the pre-Covid years,” said Dr Srinivasan G Rao, Senior Ophthalmologist & Regional Head – Clinical Services, Dr Agarwal Eye Hospital.

Addressing a press conference, organised in the wake of Cataract Awareness Month, June, Dr Srinivasan said, “ During the Covid years, the elderly population, who were more vulnerable to the Covid infection, avoided visiting eye hospitals. The hospitals – including the government-run ones, were either closed or converted into Covid treatment centres. This resulted in the postponement of eye tests and surgeries. Covid also saw an increase in people with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, blood pressure, and other chronic health conditions, which are the main risk factors for cataract. These developments explain the alarming increase in the cases of cataract.”

About 40-60% of blindness in India is caused by cataract. As per the recent estimates of National Programme for Control of Blindness, India is home to about 8.25 million cataract population. However, for want of hospitals and experts, only about 1.5 to 2 million cataract surgeries are performed in the country, while India needs 5-6 million cataract surgeries to clear the backlog.

Emphasizing the need for early diagnosis and treatment Dr Srinivasan urged people above 40 years to opt for eye tests to check intraocular pressure, and those who are over 50 years to screen their eyes for cataract every year. The recommended tests include visual acuity test, slit lamp examination, colour vision testing, contrast testing, pupil dilated evaluation and retinal evaluation.

He pointed out that cataract can lead to permanent vision loss but blindness from cataract can be completely reversed if treated early. Cataract surgeries are safe to perform in all seasons – earlier the surgery, better the vision recovery. Phacoemulsification with intraocular lens implantation is considered the best for treating cataract. However, if cataract is advanced, small incision cataract surgery or extracapsular cataract extraction with sutures becomes necessary. Dr Srinivasan added that thanks to the increased adoption of best Operation Theatre sterilization protocols, the safety of cataract surgery has increased manifold in Tamil Nadu, and the advancements in intraocular lenses further improved vision comfort and outcome for the patients.

Talking about the risk factors and preventive measures, Dr Srinivasan said, “Cataract refers to clouding or transparency of the lens. Though anyone can develop it, cataract commonly occurs in adults and elders. People who are most vulnerable to cataracts are those with certain genetical conditions, diabetes, hypertension, trauma victims, those who get excessive exposure to sunlight & UV rays, obese people, smokers, and those who are administered with steroids. Having food rich in vitamin C and E, wearing sunglasses to prevent UV rays exposure, and keeping diabetes and other lifestyle diseases under control are important. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, red and green pepper, strawberries, potatoes, kiwi, broccoli, nuts and almonds are good for eye health. Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol consumption are also inevitable.” 

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