Cataracts is a condition that affects thousands of people across the UK. If you — or someone you know — is currently suffering from cataracts, then you may be looking for more information surrounding the condition.
In this article, we will discuss the condition in its entirety. What are cataracts? What are the symptoms of cataracts? And what can you do to treat it?
What are cataracts?
Cataracts are a common condition that affects thousands of people in the UK. About 1 in 3 people over 65 have at least one cataract in the UK alone.
The condition develops when the eye’s lens starts to cloud over, making it difficult for the patient to see. Over time, these cloudy patches can grow and can eventually cause blindness.
Cataracts tend to develop slowly. In its early stages, it doesn’t tend to disturb the vision in your eye. However, cataracts will eventually start to grow, and your vision will begin to blur.
Typically, cataracts will appear in both eyes. However, for some patients, the condition may not develop simultaneously. It can also affect both eyes differently.
Visual symptoms of cataracts can be quite gradual and can take months — even years — to become noticeable. Cataracts can also progress at a different rate in each eye.
The type of cataracts you have can affect your symptoms. However, there are some key signs and symptoms to look out for.
The main signs and symptoms of cataracts are:
- Increased light sensitivity
- Double vision
- Visual halos or rings around bright lights
- Vision at night or low light becomes more difficult
- Glare from lights at night (such as street lamps or headlights from cars)
- Colours may not appear as bright as they once did
- Blurry, cloudy, hazy or dim vision
To other people, your pupil may appear light grey instead of black if you have cataracts.
If you notice any of the above symptoms of cataracts, you should book an appointment to get your eyes tested.
What causes cataracts?
The lens inside our eye is as delicate as a camera lens. Light focuses onto the retina to help us achieve clear vision. The lens also adjusts our eye’s focus to help us see things far away and up close. The protein that makes up the eye’s lens is arranged precisely to help keep it clear so light can pass through it, allowing us to see.
As we get older, this protein in the eyes’ lens can start to clump together. These clumps are what causes the cloudiness in the eye — and are what we call cataracts.
Cataract risk factors
Although there is no clear answer to why the eye’s lens changes as we age, researchers have identified several risk factors which could increase your risk of developing the condition.
These cataract risk factors include:
- Increased age
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications (steroids)
- A family history of cataracts
- Previous eye surgery
- Previous eye injury or inflammation
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
Any of the above factors can increase your chances of developing cataracts.
Types of cataract
There are many different types of cataracts. Some are more common than others.
There are three primary types of cataracts:
- Nuclear Sclerotic: This type of cataract is one that doctors see the most. Most older people will experience this type of cataracts at some point during their lives. Nuclear cataracts form at the centre of the lens. It eventually hinders your vision and causes the lens to harden.
- Posterior Subcapsular: This type of cataract forms just inside the back of your lens capsule. This type can develop a lot quicker than others. So, you may experience symptoms within the first few months. You will find it difficult to see close-up and in bright light.
- Cortical: Cortical cataracts take shape on the outside edge of your lens. As they grow, they scatter light making your vision hazy. It is best to remove this type early as it can affect both near and distant vision.
These types of cataracts are classified based on where and how they develop in your eye.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of cataracts, you should book an appointment with your optician. They will discuss your symptoms with you, examine your eyes and run a few different tests.
A visual acuity test is one you may already be familiar with. You will be asked to read letters from a distance to test how sharp your vision is.
A slit-lamp exam and a retinal exam may also be required. A slit-lamp exam involves a microscope that is used to examine different parts of your eye, while a retinal exam involves eye drops. Your optician will make an informed decision on which tests are required.
They will then refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for treatment.
Several strategies may help you prevent cataracts in the future. These include regular eye examinations, protective eyewear, a healthy diet, minimised alcohol intake, successful management of other health problems and quitting smoking.
If you have any concerns regarding your health in relation to preventing cataracts, speak to your GP or optician. They may suggest some beneficial lifestyle changes.
Cataract surgery is the only way that you can treat cataracts.
However, you may not need cataract treatment straight away, and there are some things you can do to make your life easier in the meantime. For example, if you catch the condition during its early stages, you may be able to get a new prescription for your glasses. This can help to better your vision.
If glare is a problem for your type of cataract, then you can also invest in specialist glasses that have an anti-glare coating.
For more advice about cataract treatment, speak to your doctor or healthcare team.
Cataract surgery is a procedure that involves removing your natural eye lens and replacing it with an artificial lens to help you restore your vision. The surgery is very straightforward and takes around 30 minutes.
Here at The McIndoe Centre, we work closely with our patients to help them through each step of the cataract surgery process. Our team of experts have helped many patients improve their vision, and we pride ourselves on providing hands-on care before, during and after your surgery.
If you want to know how The McIndoe Centre can help you improve your vision, don’t hesitate to book a consultation with us today.