Cataracts are formed when the clear lens inside your eye becomes cloudy or misty. This is a gradual process that usually happens as we get older. It does not hurt. The early stages of a cataract do not necessarily affect your sight.
The only proven treatment for a cataract is surgery. If the cataract gets to the stage where it affects your sight, your optometrist will refer you to hospital to have this done. The surgery is carried out under a local anaesthetic and has a very high success rate.
What causes cataracts?
The main cause is age and most people will eventually develop a cataract in both eyes, although one eye may be affected before the other. However, smoking and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light have been linked to the formation of cataracts. Cataracts affect men and women equally.
Younger people can develop cataracts if they have an injury to the eye. Some medical conditions including diabetes or taking some sorts of medication may also cause cataracts. A very small number of babies are born with a cataract.
Will cataracts affect my vision?
Many people with a cataract notice that they need to change the prescription for their glasses changing. If you are long-sighted, you may even notice that you need your glasses less than you did before you had the cataract! You may notice that your vision is less clear and distinct. Car headlights and streetlights can become dazzling, and you may experience difficulties moving from shade to sunlit areas. Colours may look different too and become faded or yellowed.
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your optometrist.
Can I prevent cataracts?
There are various supplements on the market which claim to help slow the progression of cataracts and some eye drops have been marketed as a treatment for them. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any of these can prevent or treat cataracts. Stopping smoking and wearing good-quality sunglasses may provide some protection against cataracts, as well as other eye conditions. You cannot make cataracts worse by using your eyes too much.
Can I drive if I have cataracts?
If you have cataracts, you may continue to drive providing you still meet the vision standards for driving. Your optometrist will be able to advise you on this. If you are a car driver, you do not need to tell the DVLA about your cataract unless you cannot meet the vision standards for driving.
Do cataracts only develop in one eye?
If you have had a cataract removed from one eye, it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye at some point in the future.
If your cataract is affecting your day-to-day life (for example; driving, reading or cooking), and your optometrist cannot improve this enough by changing your glasses, you can ask them to refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for cataract surgery. This involves removing the cloudy lens (the cataract) and replacing it with a clear plastic one. If you have cataracts in both eyes, surgery will normally be carried out on one eye at a time.