Reflecting on Last Year’s Missions Trip to Ecuador (And the Importance of Cataract Awareness)
Last year, members of our staff had the honor to work at a clinic in San Lorenzo, Ecuador, through the Latin American Missions Board. From March 4th to March 11th of 2017, Dr. Juli Larson, MD and technicians Jackie and Thu helped patients of all ages by performing eye examinations, cataract surgery, and strabismus surgery. They spent over 10 hours each day seeing patients in the clinic, working hard to help patients improve their eye health and vision.
Thu recalled one woman in particular who had completely lost her vision due to cataracts. After a quick, simple surgery, this woman was thrilled to have her eyesight back and remarked at being able to see her family once more. Cataracts are one of the most common eye conditions worldwide, and they can have a significant impact on the lives of those who suffer from them. It is hard to imagine the breadth of this issue until you experience it first-hand, in an area where eye health services are not as readily available as they are here in the United States.
Most people don’t really know how cataracts are formed, or what goes into removing them. A huge part of fighting cataracts is spreading the right information. So, here is a quick run-down on the basics of cataracts.
The Cause of Cataracts
Cataracts are totally unavoidable. The older you get, the more likely they will start to develop. Cataracts form when the proteins inside of the natural lens break down and begin to clump together, causing the lens to get cloudy. This physically blocks light from entering the eye, which over time can lead to blindness. However, there are many things thought to slow the progression of cataracts, and many factors that may influence your risk of developing cataracts early.
UV exposure (like from sunlight) can play a huge role in cataract development. Exposure can be avoided by wearing proper protective sunglasses when you go outside and limiting outdoor time in general. Make sure the lenses are 100% UVA and UVB protected before purchasing!
If you have diabetes, be sure to keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to all sorts of problems, including early cataract development.
If you smoke, quitting will make you healthier in just about every aspect, but it also significantly lowers your risk of developing cataracts early. Similarly, if you consume too much alcohol on a regular basis, quitting will help.
Your medical history may also factor into your cataract risk. Previous eye surgery or injury, certain medications, high pressure in the eyes, hormone replacement therapy, and unusually high myopia are known to be related to a high risk of developing cataracts.
The idea of surgery can be scary. However, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed eye surgeries in the world, making it one of the safest.
First, your eye is numbed with a local anesthetic eye drop. Then, the affected lens is broken apart using a special ultrasound tool. The pieces are gently removed using light suction. Once the natural lens is gone, it is replaced with something called an intraocular lens, or IOL for short. Prior to the surgery, you and your doctor will decide what kind of IOL is best suited to your needs. You may decide between monofocal IOLs and advanced-technology IOLs. Learn more about IOL choices here.
While there are no immediate plans to go back to Ecuador, Dr. Larson has expressed her interest in returning. And Thu already has plans to participate in another mission trip to Nicaragua with a different organization.
If you have any questions regarding cataracts or cataract surgery, don’t hesitate to schedule an eye examination or cataract surgery consultation with us today! Contact our Burlington, VT office to schedule your appointment.