Should I be concerned about cataract – the world’s leading cause of reversible blindness?

Cataract is the term used for the natural lens of the eye when it becomes cloudy or opaque. The lens is located in the front of the eye behind the iris (the coloured part of the eye). It helps to focus images correctly on the retina. The lens should be clear or transparent in order for us to see clearly. If you have a cataract, your lens becomes cloudy. It is like looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield. The symptoms will include blurry vision, seeing double, increased sensitivity to light, trouble seeing well at night, needing more light to read and seeing bright colours as faded. The most common cause of cataract is ageing. This happens at around 40 years of age due to change in the lens’ proteins. This change can be triggered by factors like diabetes or the usage of certain medications. Trauma and sun exposure, such as UV damage to the lens could also cause this condition. Cataracts can be seen in newborn babies which is known as a congenital cataract. This requires immediate surgery within the first six to eight weeks of life.

We have just had a baby. Do all newborns need to undergo vision screening?

The simple answer is – in some cases. The paediatrician usually does a ‘well baby’ check and it includes the red reflex check. Red reflex means seeing a red glow when shining a light from a specific instrument on the eye. The light passes through the front of the eye and reflects from the retina, giving a red appearance. This means that the pathway of light is unobstructed. The absence of red reflex means that there is something obstructing the visual pathway – most commonly a cataract in a newborn. Less commonly, there could be problems at the back of the eye called the retina. Parents should be aware of the importance of early eye screening and parents of premature babies should request an eye test before they are discharged from hospital. These babies also need regular eye check-ups even after they are discharged from hospital, as they are at high risk of developing other vision abnormalities later in life, such as retinal detachment, nearsightedness, crossed eyes, lazy eye, and glaucoma. The good news is that many of these eye problems can also be treated or controlled.