Some Amazing Facts about the History of Cataracts from Hayley Irvin

Cataracts - what it is like to have cataracts
Cataracts – what it is like to have cataracts

Cataracts, a natural result of the aging process, are the world’s leading cause of blindness. Although humans have known about cataracts for thousands of years, treatment options for most of our history were limited to painful and dangerous procedures that offered little in the way of visual improvement. Check out these interesting and little-known facts to learn more about the history of cataracts!

Cataract surgery has been performed for thousands of years.

The earliest artistic representation of a cataract is a small wooden statue of an Egyptian priest from approximately 2457-2467 B.C.E. A white patch, believed to represent a cataract, is carved into the priest’s left eye. The earliest known representation of a cataract removal procedure appeared on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs centuries later. The word “Cataract” come from the Greek word used for “waterfall” because prior to the 1700s, people believed that cataracts were “opaque material flowing like a waterfall, into the eye”.

500 B.C a procedure, known as couching, could only be performed on people with advanced cataracts. As cataracts worsen, the lens becomes opaque and rigid and the lens capsule and zonules that hold it in place weaken. Early couching procedures involved hitting the patient’s eye with a blunt object in order to displace the lens so it could be absorbed into the vitreous humor in the back of the eye. Because contact lenses hadn’t been invented yet, patients were often left slightly improved but extremely blurry vision.

Early cataract surgery involved a needle, a steady hand, and no anesthetics.

Though cataract removal procedures remained relatively unchanged for centuries, by 29 AD Western physicians had started using a needle break to break up cataractous lens into smaller pieces that would be more easily absorbed into the back of the eye. Because topical anesthetics wouldn’t be more invented for a few hundred more years, doctors required the help of a strong-armed assistant to hold the patient down while they jabbed their eye with a needle. Ouch.

Cataracts  - couching procedure
Cataracts – couching procedure

The advent of “needling” meant that patients did not have to wait until they had advanced cataracts to have them removed. However, as antibiotics and sterile surgical equipment were still a few centuries in the making, the procedure had a high mortality rate, a long recovery period, and still left patients with incredibly blurry vision.

Parisian Jacques Daviel performed the first cataract extraction procedure in 1748.

In couching and needling procedures, the lens was not actually removed from the eye – just displaced and reabsorbed. In Daviel’s procedure, an incision was made to the outer layer of the eye in order to completely remove the lens, leaving part of the lens capsule behind. Londoner Samuel Sharpe introduced a new variation of this surgery in 1753, in which he used his thumb to apply pressure and pop the lens out of the eye. Thankfully, by 1902, doctors were using small suction cups and forceps – you know, actual medical equipment – to remove the lens from the eye.

Intraocular lenses were first developed in 1940 by Englishman Harold Ridley.

Up until the invention of the intraocular lens, cataract surgery left patients with poor visual acuity. Although patients were no longer experiencing cloudy, yellowed, or distorted vision, the lack of lens made it impossible for their eyes to focus light. IOLS changed everything for cataract patients.

Made of plastic, early IOLs provided a permanent solution to vision loss associated with cataracts by giving the eye another lens through which to focus. This improved visual acuity in addition to getting rid of a patient’s cataracts. Since then, IOLs have received numerous upgrades to make them safer and more comfortable for wearers. Now, IOLs are made out of flexible material that respond to your eye muscle’s natural movements and can treat a number of eye problems, including presbyopia and astigmatisms.

In 1967, New Yorker Charles Kelman introduced the phacoemulsification technique for cataract surgeries.

Unlike previous procedures that required a large incision in the cornea to remove cataracts, this technique uses ultrasonic vibrations to break up the lens into incredibly small pieces that could be sucked out through a tiny incision in the eye. Kelman’s innovation, which was less painful and had a shorter recovery time than other cataract removal procedures, further improved the patient experience during and after the surgery.

Claude Monet, the father of French Impressionism, developed cataracts in his old age.

 A product of the aging process, no one is immune to cataracts – even artists. French Impressionist painter Claude Monet developed cataracts during his later years, though he would eventually have them removed.

Cataracts and Monet
Cataracts and Monet

This series of images illustrates how Monet’s cataracts affected his work. Image A, from Waterlilies, was painted while Monet had cataracts. Put through a filter, image B shows what this piece looked like to Monet through his cataracts.Image C, Morning with Weeping Willows, was painted after his cataracts were removed. Notice the differences in color and detail before and after undergoing cataract surgery. The first image really speaks to Monet’s talent as a painter, considering what it looked like to him!

With a 98% success rate modern cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures performed today. There are more than 3 million cataract surgeries performed in the U.S. every year, and most patients experience greatly improved vision after the surgery. Thanks to computer-assisted technology and the femtosecond laser, it is safer than ever to undergo cataract surgery. If you’re experiencing vision loss due to cataracts, speak with your ophthalmologist today about the best treatment options available to you. Enjoy incredible sight for life!


BIO: Hayley Irvin is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. When she’s not creating awesome content for Marketing Zen Group & Eyecare2020 , she’s writing about basketball, learning about space, and thwarting her cats’ attempts to take over the world. Catch up with her on Twitter @HayleyNIrvin.



Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month – Eat your Greens

Kai-lan or Chinese broccoli
Kai-lan or Chinese broccoli
Yep that’s it! Our contribution to Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month.

Eat your greens.( Yes I know it is a bit of an odd picture for a post on vision loss but I wanted to attract your attention to the importance of diet).

It seems that eating more green leafy vegetables can help with age related Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). It can help slow the progression of dry AMD and help prevent wet AMD according to the UK’s National Health Service.

So what actually is AMD apart from being the most common cause of vision loss in the over 50s? Last year PatientTalk.Org created a “user guide” for macular degeneration. We did this by interviewing Victoria O’Connor and Cathy Yelf (from the Macular Society). O’Connor was representing Boots the Opticians.

You can read the guide here!

So what is the point of this blog apart from raising awareness of AMD? Well quite simple. One of the barriers to actually eating more greens is that on their own they can be a bit boring.

So I’m asking my readers to share their favorite green leafy vegetable recipes in the comments section below. (If you run a food blog or site a link would be grand!)

So in the aid of full transparency (well you know what I mean) let me kick off with one of my favorites. If memory serves I found it originally in the Australian Women’s Weekly but it has been adapted a bit since then.

Baby Spinach Pesto

Makes loads

You need:-

1lb or 450g of baby spinach
2oz or 50g pecan nuts (or really any you like)
Olive oil (say two glugs)
2oz or 50 Pecorino cheese or any hard cheese such as Parmesan. Indeed there are some good vegan option these days.
Two closes of garlic crushed
Juice of a lemons

To prepare? Please the lot in your blender and wizz till you get the consistency you like. You might want to add the nuts during rather than the beginning to the wizzing.

Eat with pasta of on top of a baked eggplant or aubergine!

PS The picture above of Kai-lan or Chinese broccoli. I picked some up in Chinatown in london yesterday. Great steamed with oyster sauce!

PPS Can I also mention that green vegetables could assist with Diabetic retiopathy on Optic Neuritis which is an early symtom of multiple sclerosis.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month – find out more.

National Glaucoma Awareness Month
National Glaucoma Awareness Month
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, an important time to spread the word about this sight-stealing disease. The Glaucoma Research Foundation have produced the following really useful information which we would like to share.

You may also wish to read some of our previous coverage of glaucoma here.

They say “Currently, more than 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase.

Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight” since there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it’s permanent. As much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Moreover, among African American and Latino populations, glaucoma is more prevalent. Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.

Over 2.7 million Americans, and over 60 million people worldwide, have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. Combined with our aging population, we can see an epidemic of blindness looming if we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma.

Help Raise Awareness

In the United States, approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness. Here are three ways you can help raise awareness:

  1. Talk to friends and family about glaucoma. If you have glaucoma, don’t keep it a secret. Let your family members know.
  2. Refer a friend to our web site,
  3. Request to have a free educational booklet sent to you or a friend.

Connect with us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for regular updates on glaucoma research, treatments, news and information. Share information about glaucoma with your friends and family.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.

Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.

There is no cure for glaucoma—yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease. Watch a video from the research scientists working to find a cure.

Types of Glaucoma

There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, this is called normal tension glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.

Read more about Types of Glaucoma.

Regular Eye Exams are Important

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost.

The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination. Then, if you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. And among Hispanics in older age groups, the risk of glaucoma is nearly as high as that for African-Americans. Also, siblings of persons diagnosed with glaucoma have a significantly increased risk of having glaucoma.

Read about Glaucoma Eye Exams.

Risk Factors

Are you at risk for glaucoma? Those at higher risk include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for glaucoma, and may help to prevent unnecessary vision loss.”

National Eye Health Week – Is one eye covering up the problem? – Find out more about the symptoms of Wet AMD

Wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the UK and mainly affects the over 65s.  The number of people at risk of developing wet AMD is expected to grow significantly as the population ages.

A new campaign, supported by Leicester’s Hospitals and Leicestershire sight loss charity , Vista aims to raise awareness of wet AMD and its signs and symptoms among older people in the Leicester area, encouraging those over 65 to see their optician if they have any concerns.

The campaign, running during National Eye Health Week (NEHW), will ask ‘Is one eye covering up the problem?’ to highligh how wet AMD can affect one or both eyes and sometimes the healthier eye can compensate for any loss of sight.People at risk are encouraged to check their vision in both eyes by covering up one eye and looking straight ahead.

Symptoms of wet AMD include; difficulty in reading small print even with reading glasses; straight lines appearing wavy or distorted; or blurred vision.  It affects the part of the eye which sees fine detail (central vision), so can make everyday tasks such as driving, cooking, reading and seeing faces very difficult.  The risk of developing the disease increases with age, having a family history of wet AMD and smoking.

Theo Empeslidis, a consultant ophthalmologist based at Leicester Royal Infirmary, explains the importance of this campaign:  “Wet AMD is an aggressive form of macular degeneration and, if left untreated, can cause severe vision loss within weeks.  This campaign is all about asking people over the age of 65 to cover up one eye at a time and look straight ahead and check their sight.

“Difficulties reading or blurred vision are not necessarily signs of old age. If you have any concerns, make an appointment with an optician and ask about macular degeneration. The earlier we’re able to diagnose and treat wet AMD, the more sight we’re likely to save.” The new research also shows only 14 per cent of people who were aware of wet AMD were able to correctly identify at least one sign or symptom of the condition.

Paul Bott, Chief Executive of Vista adds: “These results highlight the worrying fact that the majority of people in Leicestershire who are at high risk of developing wet AMD have never heard of the disease and can’t identify the main signs and symptoms.

“Wet AMD is the biggest cause of preventable sight loss in this country and, as we get older, our risk of developing the condition increases greatly.  These days we’re all living longer so it’s in everybody’s interests to take five minutes to find out a bit more about this campaign because it could make all the difference to saving your sight.  Pick up a leaflet, call our helpline or speak to your optician if you have any concerns.”

Further information about wet AMD is available at

Are you seeing things clearly?- submit for questions here for next weeks show on eye health and how to spot possible eye problems

Khalid Ikram
Khalid Ikram

Log on to our live and interactive web TV show where Consultant Ophthalmic and Refractive Surgeon Khalid Ikram talks about some common eye health myths and gives advice on how to look after your eye health and spot potential problems

It’s something many of us take for granted, but good eye health is by no means guaranteed and while age is a key factor in the deterioration of our eyesight and the health of our eyes, there are many more factors that can contribute.

According to a survey conducted by Spectrum Thea 94% of Optometrists don’t think as a nation we take our eye health seriously or take care of our eyes as much as we should.

Our reliance on computers and digital devices as well as things like diet, alcohol consumption and smoking can all have an impact.

And if, like millions of Brits, you’re not getting your eyes tested regularly, then you may not even be aware that you have a problem.

To help spot the signs log on to our live and interactive web TV show where Khalid Ikram discusses some common eye myths, demonstrates exercises to help your vision and answers all your questions on how to keep your eyes healthy.

Click here to submit questions before the show

Khalid Ikram, Consultant Ophthalmic and Refractive Surgeon and Janet Peacock joins us live online at


on Monday 22nd September at 1pm