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Atopic Dermatitis And Cataracts: 4 Things You Need To Know

by Caitlin Obara

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is a chronic skin disorder characterized by itchy, cracked skin. While the intense itching is distressing, atopic dermatitis can affect more than just your skin. The condition has been linked to sight-threatening eye conditions like cataracts. Here are four things atopic dermatitis sufferers need to know about cataracts.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts are responsible for 51% of the blindness in the world, making them the most common cause of blindness. Cataracts occur when the naturally-clear lens of the eye becomes clouded. This cloudiness blocks light from entering the eye.

When cataracts are small, they may not cause noticeable vision changes, but as they grow, you'll start to notice symptoms. These symptoms include blurred vision, impaired night vision, and double vision. As the clouding gets worse, your vision will progressively worsen, and eventually, you won't be able to see at all.

How does atopic dermatitis cause cataracts?

It's not yet known why atopic dermatitis leads to cataracts. One theory is that frequent itching or rubbing of facial skin lesions contributes to formation of cataracts. Another theory is that the barrier between the blood and the aqueous humor is compromised, which allows proteins to enter the aqueous humor and accumulate on the lens.

While atopic dermatitis can cause cataracts, so can the medications used to treat it. Systemic corticosteroids are commonly used to treat atopic dermatitis, but they are linked to cataract formation. This may be because the medication disrupts the lens growth factors or leads to oxidative damage, though researchers don't know for sure.

Are cataracts a common complication?

Cataracts are a surprisingly common complication of atopic dermatitis. According to American Family Physician, between 4% and 12% of patients with the skin disease will develop cataracts.

Can cataracts be treated?

Once cataracts develop, they're permanent. If your cataracts are small and not causing major vision problems, your optometrist can help you manage them with stronger eyeglasses or vision aids like magnifying glasses. Once the cataracts get larger, however, new glasses won't be enough and you'll need surgery.

Cataract surgery is one of the safest surgical procedures performed today, so you don't need to be scared of the procedure. The surgery only takes about fifteen minutes. During the surgery, your clouded lens will be removed, and an artificial lens will be inserted in its place.

If you have atopic dermatitis, you're at risk of developing cataracts. If you notice any changes in your vision, see your optometrist right away. Click for more info.