What are cataracts?
Cataracts are a common problem across the
world, with 10 million cataracts removed every year. Cataracts appear as opaque
or cloudy patches in the eye lens that can blur your vision and reduce the
amount of light entering your eye. They often develop slowly, and can be
tolerated for a time before the reduced vision becomes a serious problem and
impacts on daily life, especially activities such as driving.
Who do cataracts affect?
Cataracts commonly occur in older people,
with around half of all over 65’s experiencing some degree of cataract.
However, cataracts can develop at any time, and you can even be born with them.
It is essential that childhood cataracts are treated quickly as they can lead
to blindness, even if the cataracts are subsequently removed.
Your risk of developing cataracts is
increased by various factors such as:
Long term steroid use.
Family history of cataracts.
Cataracts can also develop as a result of
an eye injury or because of diseases that impact on the eyes. Diabetes, for
example, is a significant cause of cataracts in younger people.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
You may not notice cataracts in the early
stages, and they are often detected by an optician during a routine eye test
before you are aware of them yourself. Since cataracts develop slowly over
time, you may automatically compensate for the slight blurring or ignore it at
first. However, as the cataracts develop, you will notice your vision deteriorating
and you may become aware of cloudy areas in your field of view. The size and
number of these patches will gradually increase until the quality of your
vision is significantly reduced.
Typical symptoms include:
Blurred or cloudy vision.
Spots in your visual field.
Difficulty seeing in dim or very bright
‘Starburst’ effects around bright light
Colours appearing faded.
A yellow tinge to your sight.
Glasses seem less effective than they used
How are cataracts diagnosed?
Your optometrist will examine your eyes
using an instrument called an opthalmascope. This allows them to see into the
eye and establish the extent of your cataracts. In severe cases, cataracts can
be seen with the naked eye without needing special equipment.
Surgery for cataracts
Once a lens starts to develop cataracts,
the process is irreversible. Cataracts cannot be treated with medicines or eye
drops, and the only option is surgery. However, cataract surgery is a very
common operation, with around a third of a million cataract operations
performed annually in the UK alone.
Cataract surgery involves the removal of
the cloudy lens, and the insertion of an artificial lens in its place. Cataract
surgery is done under local anaesthetic, with a cut of just 3mm made in the
eye. The faulty lens is broken up using an ultrasonic probe and the debris
sucked out before the new lens is inserted through the same opening.
Cataract surgery is a very safe and
successful procedure, with few risks or complications.