How much do you know about cataracts?

Cataracts are very common, it’s estimated that in the UK somewhere in the region of 30% of people over the age of 65 have a cataract that impairs their vision in one or both eyes. But do you know what actually causes cataracts, the signs and symptoms to look out for and how to lower your risk of developing one?

To find out the answer to this and other important questions about cataracts, and how they’re treated, we spoke to our expert ophthalmologist, Mr Say Aun Quah.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a cloudiness that forms in the lens of your eye, mostly caused by normal ageing changes in your eye as you get older. Cataract can also be caused by certain diseases (for example, diabetes), medication (for example, steroids) or trauma to the eye.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

You may not notice a cataract at first, but as it grows it may begin to cause changes in your vision. For example, you may notice that:

  • Your vision becomes cloudy or blurry
  • Colours begin to look faded
  • You have trouble seeing at night
  • Some light seems too bright, such as sunlight or headlights 
  • You can see a halo around lights

These symptoms can be a sign of other eye problems, too. Please talk to your eye doctor if you are experiencing any of these.

Who is at risk of cataracts?

Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for cataracts but there are certain other risk factors to be aware of. A family history of cataracts, heavy alcohol consumption, sun exposure, smoking, an eye injury or surgery to the eye, and some other health issues, like diabetes, can all increase your risk.

Can cataracts be prevented?

There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of cataracts, or delay their appearance:

  • Be sun safe by wearing sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes
  • Don’t smoke or try to quit if you do smoke
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables —dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are particularly good
  • If you’re age 60 or older, get a dilated eye exam at least once every 2 years

How are cataracts diagnosed?

An ophthalmologist checks for cataracts as part of simple and painless dilated eye exam. Your ophthalmologist will give you some eye drops which widen your pupil, allowing them to be checked for cataracts and any other eye issues.

How are cataracts treated?

Symptomatic cataracts are treated surgically, with very effective results. 

During cataract surgery the lens of your affected eye or eyes will be removed and replaced with a clear implant called an intraocular lens (IOL) which will restore your vision. Some people believe they will need to wear glasses after cataract surgery but with IOL most people’s vision will be corrected to 20/20 without the need for glasses or contact lenses. And if you needed reading glasses prior to cataract surgery, premium IOLs may even help to reduce the dependency on them following the surgery. 

Do all cataracts require surgery?

Some smaller or less advanced cataracts which don’t cause vision problems can be monitored by your eye doctor, and sometimes cataracts don’t develop to the stage where they need to be surgically removed. However, if your cataract worsens and begins to affect your vision, surgery will be required to correct it.

Are there any side effects of cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery, particularly modern cataract surgery is accurate, precise and safe. But like any surgical procedure, there are potential side effects.

Common side effects include blurriness, light sensitivity and inflammation or irritation in the immediate period post-surgery. These side effects are usually temporary and resolve within a few days post-surgery. If these symptoms persist beyond a week, or increase in severity, it’s important to contact your eye doctor.

Some people may also develop a “secondary cataract”, the medical term for this is posterior capsular opacification. This condition occurs when the membrane in your eye which used to house your natural lens, and now contains your new intraocular lens, becomes thickened. This has an effect on your vision similar to your initial cataract, hence being known as a “secondary cataract.”

The good news is that secondary cataracts are easily treatable with a quick, painless laser procedure and vision will begin to improve in a day or two.

To reduce the risk of side effects after your cataract surgery it’s important to follow your post-operative care guide and tell your doctor about any unusual symptoms without delay.

If you would like to book a consultation with one of our expert ophthalmologists at The Wilmslow Hospital, please call: 01625 545 000