What is a cataract?
A cataract is when the lens of your eye becomes cloudy. It prevents light rays from passing through your lens and affects your vision. Your sight normally appears to gradually blur over time. You may get a cataract in either eye or in both eyes, although they cannot spread from one eye to the other.
What causes cataracts?
The majority of cataracts are age-related. Cataracts are an inevitable part of ageing and the most common cause of some degree of visual impairment in the over 40’s.
As you get older your lens may harden, become thicker and less transparent. If you have a cataract developing the tissues within your lens break down and clump together and start to cause clouding. Initially the clouding is in small areas of your lens. Over time this becomes denser and appears in a bigger part of your lens.
Other factors that may increase your risk of cataracts include: eye injury, diabetes, taking steroids for a long time, a family history of cataracts, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight, smoking, excessive alcohol, past eye surgery, and eye conditions such as uveitis (inflammation of your eye). Some children may be born with a congenital cataract.
What are the symptoms of a cataract?
When you first start developing cataracts you may not notice any symptoms. Over time you may start to detect changes in your sight including:
- Blurry, misty vision making it difficult to see.
- Increased sensitivity to light including the sun and car headlights.
- Difficulty processing colours and bright colours may look faded and yellow.
- Problems driving at night or needing more light when you’re reading.
- Seeing double images instead of one.
- More frequent changes to the prescription of your glasses or contact lenses.
Often cataracts are detected whilst having a regular eye test.
How is a cataract diagnosed?
You should book an eye examination with your optometrist or ophthalmologist if you think you might have cataracts. They will perform a comprehensive eye examination which involves understanding your medical history and your symptoms, then performing several tests including:
- Slit-lamp examination – a microscope is used to examine and detect any abnormalities in your cornea, iris, lens and the other areas at the front of your eye.
- Retinal exam – you will be given drops to dilate your pupils to make it easier to examine the back of your eyes (retina). Your eye doctor will use a special device called an ophthalmoscope to look at your lens for signs of a cataract.
- Refraction and visual acuity test – an eye chart measures how well you can read a series of letters and is used to assess the sharpness and clarity of your vision.
Treatment options if you have a cataract
If cataracts aren’t affecting your vision too much then you may initially try a new eyeglass prescription and brighter lighting to help you see better.
Cataracts will never just disappear on their own. Some cataracts don’t get any worse after a certain point. Other cataracts may continue to progress and cause your symptoms to become more pronounced.
If you have a cataract that is affecting the quality of your life and preventing you from doing things you want and need to do, such as reading and driving, then your eye doctor may suggest you consider cataract surgery. If cataracts are left and continue to grow, they may eventually cause blindness.
Cataract surgery is the only way to treat cataracts.
What is cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is a quick and straightforward day case procedure that is effective for most patients. It is the most common operation in the UK.
Cataract surgery usually takes up to 45 minutes and is usually performed under local anaesthetic. During the procedure, your cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one, known as an intra ocular lens (IOL).
If you have cataracts in both eyes you will need an operation for each eye, and the second eye will be done a few weeks after the first one.