You get a cataract 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 is very safe. Once you have had the cataract removed, it will not return.
Why do cataracts occur?
The main cause is age. However, smoking, poor diet and exposure to sunlight have been linked to cataracts. (See Healthy lifestyle, healthy eyes.)
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 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.
- 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. The best advice to try to prevent cataracts, or to stop them getting worse, is to stop smoking and to wear good-quality sunglasses with full UV protection.
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 (specialist eye doctor) for cataract surgery. This involves removing the cloudy lens (the cataract) and replacing it with a clear plastic one.
Do cataracts only happen 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.
The video below should be viewed in conjunction with the text beneath them and preferably watched while your optometrist discusses them with you.
- In a normal eye, light is focussed by the cornea and the lens
- … to form a sharp image on the retina at the back of the eye.
- As we get older, the lens can become hazy.
- This is known as a cataract.
- This makes the vision rather blurred or hazy
- … even when wearing the correct spectacles.