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Electrical Burn Causes Star-Shaped Cataracts in Patient’s Eyes

Image: After an electrical burn, a man developed star-shaped cataracts in his eyes.
After an electrical burn, a man developed star-shaped cataracts in his eyes. The New England Journal of Medicine

A 42-year-old electrician in California developed star-shaped cataracts in his eyes after a serious work-related accident caused electricity to run through his body, according to a new report of the case.

The man's left shoulder came into contact with 14,000 volts of electricity, and an electric current passed through his entire body, including the optic nerve — the nerve that connects the back of the eye to the brain.

"The optic nerve is similar to any wire that conducts electricity," said Dr. Bobby Korn, an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego, who treated the patient. "In this case, the extreme current and voltage that passed through this important natural wire caused damage to the optic nerve itself," Korn said.

Four weeks after the accident, the patient was experiencing vision problems. An examination showed the man had "striking cataracts in both of his eyes," that were star-shaped, Korn said. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye.

Four months after the accident, the man had surgery to remove the cataracts and implant a new lens, and his vision improved slightly after the operation, Korn said. But the damage to his optic nerve still limited the man's sight, Korn said. Now, 10 years later, the man still has poor vision in both of his eyes, Korn said.

The man's case is reported in the Jan. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

— Rachael Rettner, LiveScience

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