An essential guide
Cataracts can occur when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty. This is a gradual process that can occur as part of the eyes normal ageing changes. Cataracts cannot usually be seen when looking in the mirror and they do not hurt. Occasionally cataracts can form very quickly following an eye injury, unlike age related cataracts which usually form over time.
Why do cataracts occur?
The main cause of cataracts is increasing age. However, poor diet, smoking and exposure to sunlight have been linked to cataracts.
Younger people can develop cataracts if they have an injury to the eye. Head trauma can cause cataracts. Some medical conditions (such as diabetes) or taking of certain medications (such as steroids) may also cause cataracts.
A very small number of babies are born with cataracts.
Will cataracts affect my vision?
In the early stages, cataract may have very little effect on your sight. However, many people with early cataracts notice that they need their prescription updating more often than usual. As the changes increase, you may notice that your vision is less clear and distinct. In particular, people note an increase in glare, with poorer vision at night and in bright sunlight. Car headlights and streetlights can become dazzling.
Can cataracts be treated?
Treatment for cataract is with surgery, and is carried out by a specialist eye doctor (ophthalmologist). This involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with a clear implant lens. This is usually done painlessly and quickly under local anaesthetic allowing a fast recovery from the procedure. The process usually takes less than 30 minutes.
When will I need treatment?
Surgery for cataracts is usually recommended once they are affecting your day-to-day activities (eg driving, reading or cooking) and your optometrist can no longer improve your vision enough by changing your glasses. When this stage is reached will obviously vary for different people but cataracts do not have to be "ripe" or "ready" before surgery is performed.
Risk factors for cataracts
Patients are at risk of cataracts when:-
- Aged over 70 years
- History of smoking
- History of exposure to sunlight and/or UV radiation
- Are taking certain medications (e.g. steroids)
- Have had previous eye surgery