Cataract Problem Is Wide But Understanding Poor

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Alcon, the global leader in eye care and a division of Novartis today released the Alcon More to See survey highlighting critical gaps in the knowledge and awareness of cataracts across six Asian countries, including India.   Despite cataracts being a leading cause of vision impairment in the above 60+ age-groups in India and other parts of Asia, senior citizens surveyed revealed high levels of ignorance or incorrect beliefs with regards to cataracts and their progression.

The knowledge that age–related cataracts are a progressive disease, a part of aging and can lead to visual impairment and blindness unless treated was missing. In fact, when it comes to eye check-ups, many senior citizens revealed that they do not regularly consult with an eye care professional. This, even when over 96 percent Indians in this age-group revealed that when compared to touch, taste, scent and hearing, vision is the most important of the five senses.

Some key issues of ignorance among India’s 60+ population
# Incorrect Belief %
1 Cataracts can be prevented 59
2 Cataracts should be fully developed before treatment 54
3 Cataracts are not serious and get better with time 30
4 Did not see an eye-doctor / ophthalmologist even once a year 36

The majority of senior citizens, 77% according to the Alcon survey, understand that cloudy vision is a symptom of cataract. Yet almost half (42%) of the Indian respondents were unable to name even one symptom. Plus, 16% erroneously listed itchy eyes as a symptom.

“While lifestyle factors may impact cataract, it’s a progressive disease that can only be treated by surgery,” said Sandeep Bothra, Country Business Head – Surgical. “Alcon is encouraging people 50 years and up to get their eyes checked annually. Annual check-ups are very important for seniors and it worries us that so few are regularly seeing an eye care professional.”

Equally concerning is that 54% of Indians surveyed incorrectly believed cataracts should be fully developed before treatment. “Waiting isn’t the answer,” Sandeep Bothra, Country Business Head – Surgical commented. “If you have any symptoms, including blurry vision, see an eye care professional and seek advice on how and when you should be treated.”

Symptoms of cataract usually develop over time and can include the following:

Cloudy or blurry vision

Colors looking faded or yellowing

Light and glare sensitivity

Seeing “halos” around lights

Poor night vision

Double vision or multiple images in an eye

Needing to change eyeglass or contact lens prescription frequently

How India compares to Asia ?

Interestingly, when compared to their Asian peers, Indian respondents showed significantly higher levels of awareness when it came to having a full understanding of cataract (37%) compared to an average of 22% across the rest of the Asia region.

The number of respondents with ‘no knowledge at all’ on cataract was considerably lower in India, at 3% compared to 7% for the Asia region.

The top five symptoms faced by Indians according to the survey are:

Cloudy vision (77% versus 77% for ASIA),

Difficulty seeing at night (47% versus 34% for Asia),

Fading of colors (28% versus 24% for Asia),

Seeing black spots (27% versus 29% for Asia) ,

Halos around the eyes (24% versus 26% for Asia).

42% of Indian respondents were unable to name even 1 correct symptom versus 47% for the Asia region.

Alarmingly however, the percentage of Indians who incorrectly believe that cataracts are not serious and will get better with time was 30% versus only 15% for the Asia region.

India’s cataract problem

Cataract is the single-largest factor for blindness in India, accounting for nearly 63 per cent of the total burden of vision impairment in the country, according to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) India has among the world’s highest proportion of blind people (numbering nearly 12 million) against 39 million globally — which makes India home to one-third of the world’s blind population. However over 80 per cent of blindness is preventable. Also, over 81 per cent of blindness or visual impairment is seen in people aged 50 years and above. Cataract is the single-largest cause of blindness, accounting for over 60 per cent of vision impairment in India. Approximately 9 per cent of India’s population is in the 60+ age-group.

Men and women surveyed were 60 plus years of age and included those who had undergone cataract surgery. These findings are relevant when seen in the context that the above 60+ population across these countries comprises almost 361.9 million people or 13% of the overall population of this region. India’s share of the 60+ population is approximately 123.4 million.

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