Skip to main content

Military Health System

Cataracts Concern Battle Fighters, the Aging

Image of A doctor performing cataract surgery . Dr. John Jarstead, an ophthalmologist from the University of Missouri, wraps a patient’s eye after performing cataract surgery in an operating room aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in October 2018 (Photo by: Petty Officer 2nd Class Kris Lindstrom, Navy Public Affairs Support Element East).

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

Developing a cataract of the eye is usually thought of as something to worry about as one ages, when an opacity, or cloudiness, of the lens develops over time. But a cataract can also happen suddenly, as a result of direct force trauma on the battlefield, or exposure to gasses, chemicals, or new weaponry in war zones.

"In case of traumatic cataract, it can be from direct and indirect trauma to the eye," explained Dr. Mariia Viswanathan, an ophthalmologist and the chief of Education, Training, Research, and Surveillance at the Clinical Care and Integration branch of the Defense Health Agency's Vision Center of Excellence (VCE). "It's damaging the protein, and so the loss of transparency. It can be force trauma, it can be chemical trauma, it can be ionization. Different types of weapons can cause traumatic cataract. It's a very complex process."

Traumatic cataracts in service members can occur immediately after an eye injury, months, or even years later. They can also be the result of non-battlefield situations, the VCE says.

They can be produced by severe head trauma via road traffic accidents, recreational and sports activities, firearms or explosive injuries, or the absence of ocular protective devices. Regardless of how it occurs, the effects cannot be undone when it comes to traumatic cataracts, said Viswanathan.

"The opaque lens is like a boiled egg," Viswanathan said. "You have the part that is transparent. If you boil it, it becomes white - you cannot do anything to make it transparent again. It's the same with the (ocular) lens. We have particular proteins in the lens that keep a particular structure. If there is any influence on the lens, the structure is damaged, and that's when they become disorganized and the lens is opaque, as a boiled egg."

Usually, traumatic cataract in one eye does not mean it will affect both eyes, she said, unless the blast injury that causes it affects the entire body, or a particular physical system. In addition, total blindness is not necessarily the outcome of a traumatic cataract. There is often a way to surgically address some of the ocular damage to at least improve the vision, without restoring it entirely.

Throughout the 20th century, the incidence of eye injuries among war fighters increased with each major armed conflict, the VCE says. As recently as 2008, 13% of combat casualties requiring evacuation were reported to have sustained ocular injuries.

Viswanathan said that cases of traumatic cataracts have leveled off in recent times, depending on the conflicts U.S. service members have been involved in because advances in eye protection have been accompanied by advances in armaments deployed by the enemy.

"From my perspective...protection for the eyes became better 15 to 20 years ago," she said. But incidents of eye damage remained high because weapons became increasingly sophisticated.

"They're more powerful," Viswanathan said. "It can be laser. If it does not involve active physical force, there are laser and microwave weapons. It's not really well researched because these are new weapons, and there is not enough data yet to support some kind of decisions on how (their) effects last, but it has been seen that they are doing damage to the lens."

Non-traumatic cataract

Along with aging, cataracts can develop due to other risk factors, such as smoking, exposure to excessive ultraviolet rays (mostly sunlight), the presence of pre-existing ocular diseases, previous eye surgeries, or systemic diseases such as diabetes or  autoimmune disorders. Non-traumatic cataracts most commonly affect people over 40.

Likewise, conditions that cause age-related cataracts, such as diabetes, could influence both eyes, Viswanathan said. But even simple inflammation might cause it in just one eye.

"There's a big difference between people who age and get cataracts versus traumatic cataracts due to an ocular injury," said Helen White, the VCE's branch chief of Functional Requirement Management & Governance. "Cataract surgery for the general population due to maturing of the eyes is done at a high success rate. It's about a 10-minute procedure for each eye and a short recovery time before you go home. Within 90 days many people see better and there is a boost in their vision, with the best corrected vision at 20/40. You may still need to wear glasses to read, but may not need glasses for distance."

White is referring to the replacement of the cloudy, cataract-affected lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL), a procedure she has undergone herself.

"I don't need glasses or contacts for distance anymore," White said. "Following surgery, I wear one contact lens for reading - that's it."

The bottom line? Non-traumatic cataracts are often avoidable by the use of eye protection and a healthy lifestyle.

You also may be interested in...

Eyes on Vision Readiness

Article Around MHS
1/27/2023
Military personnel gets eye exam

Good eyesight is often take for granted, but vision impairment can be the difference between mission success and mission failure. Find out what's happening on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling so airmen in the National Capital Region remain sharply focused on their U.S. Air Force missions.

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Vision Center of Excellence | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Progressive Return to Activity: Primary Care for Acute Concussion Management

Publication
1/23/2023

The Progressive Return to Activity (PRA): Primary Care for Acute Concussion Management clinical recommendation is an evidence-based return to activity protocol for primary care managers and concussion/traumatic brain injury (TBI) clinic providers. The PRA is a six-step approach that begins after the provider performs the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation 2 (MACE 2) and diagnoses the patient with a concussion/TBI. The PRA stages start with relative rest and allow service members to gradually increase activities until they receive clearance for return to full duty or activity. In each stage, it offers general and military specific activities and options to help providers manage their patients’ primary symptom clusters. The PRA also offers recommendations on specialty referrals and handouts are available for providers to give patients and leadership.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Provider Resources | TBI Educators | Centers of Excellence

Hearing Protector Fit-Testing Requirement in the Department of Defense

Fact Sheet
1/12/2023

Significant updates to the Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 6055.12 “Hearing Conservation Program” are expected to be published in April 2023. The significant change is a new requirement for initial hearing protector fit-testing to be conducted for all DOD personnel who have documented noise exposure greater than or equal to 95 dBA 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and who are enrolled in a service hearing conservation program (HCP).

Recommended Content:

Hearing Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing and Balance Injuries

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

Infographic
12/6/2022
National Glaucoma Awareness Month

There’s no cure for glaucoma, but early detection and treatment can protect your vision. Learn more and see if you’re at risk. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/outreach-campaigns-and-resources/glaucoma-resources/glaucoma-awareness-month #GlaucomaAwarenessMonth

Recommended Content:

January | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

Healthy Sleep Following Concussion/mTBI Fact Sheet

Fact Sheet
11/16/2022

Getting restful sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health, and it often takes thoughtful preparation during the day. This fact sheet offers service members and veterans who experience sleep disturbances after a concussion with healthy sleep tips that can likely improve sleep.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators | TBI Provider Resources | Centers of Excellence

I Am Navy Medicine -- Audiology Technician

Article Around MHS
11/3/2022
U.S. Navy Seaman Tabetha M. Sanders, audiology technician

With October designated as Audiology Awareness Month, now is the time for everyone to listen up, heed the call, and harken to the need for healthy hearing.

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

Mobile Hearing Tests Prove Successful in the Field and Beyond

Article
10/24/2022
Female service member in front holds a clicker while wearing a headset. In the background is the hearing test technician..

Mobile audiometry equipment can be used from the point of injury to advanced traumas.

Recommended Content:

Hearing Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

DOD Conservation Programs Help to Decrease Hearing Loss

Article
10/20/2022
A group of service members walking

Hearing conservation programs help to reduce hearing loss in the military.

Recommended Content:

Hearing Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

New Policy Benefits Noise-exposed Service Members

Article
10/20/2022
A service member wears headphones while sitting at a desk.

New hearing protection fit-testing policy on the horizon.

Recommended Content:

Hearing Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention

Interview with the SEAC: TBI from a Joint Perspective

Video
7/18/2022
Interview with the SEAC: TBI from a Joint Perspective

In this episode of Picking Your Brain, Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence Branch Chief Capt. Scott Cota and clinical moderator Amanda Gano interview the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC), Ramón Colón-López. The discussion covers the health impacts of TBI and blast-related concussion stemming from the demands of combat and training. The SEAC also addresses the importance of maintaining medical readiness through education and military leadership. Listen to more Picking Your Brain episodes at www.health.mil/TBIPodcasts, on DVIDS, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBICoE Podcasts | TBI Provider Resources | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators | Centers of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Protecting Your Hearing and Vision is a Personal Readiness Mission

Article
6/14/2022
Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Dominique Campbell drives a forklift on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) during a vertical replenishment. She is wearing proper hearing and vision protection.

Experts from the Centers of Excellence help advance research to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions that affect military personnel and their families.

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence

Ask the Doc: All This Noise is Giving Me Headaches

Article
6/13/2022
Ask the Doc: Noise from ship can cause headaches. Try to give your ears a rest when you can.

Ask the Doc: What is causing all of these headaches?

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing Center of Excellence | Ask The Doc

Vision Research Month

Infographic
5/19/2022
Vision Research Month

It’s #VisionResearchMonth! Thanks to talented doctors and scientists committed to researching vision, we have the tools at our disposal to keep our eyesight #MissionReady at all times. https://health.mil/VCEHome

Recommended Content:

Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | June | Vision Center of Excellence

Cancer Patients Discuss Experiences During DOD Moonshot 2 Initiative Roundtable

Article
5/17/2022
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) hosted a Department of Defense Cancer Moonshot Roundtable, “A Conversation on Cancer Health Equity and Military-relevant Environmental Exposures,” on May 4. (Photo: Courtesy of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences)

On May 4, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) hosted the Department of Defense Cancer Moonshot Roundtable as part of a day-long series of agency events sponsored by the White House Cancer Moonshot initiative.

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | Cancer Moonshot

DOD Cancer Research Program Aims to 'End Cancer as We Know It Today'

Article
5/3/2022
Dr. Craig Shriver is leading a renewed DOD/DHA effort to significantly expand cancer research and save lives through personalized medical treatments using proteogenomics. Shriver is director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. (Photo: Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

DOD/DHA to greatly expand Military Health System cancer research, with a roundtable on the effort slated for May 4.

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | Women's Health | Cervical Cancer | Ovarian Cancer | Cancer Moonshot
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 9
Refine your search
Last Updated: January 24, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery