Understanding Cataracts

What is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The normal lens is clear and brings light into focus so we can see. A cataract can be compared to a window that is frosted or “fogged” with steam. Most commonly this cloudiness is age related, however occasionally it can be due to trauma to the eye, it may be secondary to diabetes or other medical conditions, and can be congenital.

What is the lens?
The lens is the part of the eye that helps focus light on the retina (just like the lens in a camera). The retina is the eye's light-sensitive layer that transmits visual signals to the brain (like the photographic film in a camera). In a normal eye, light passes through the lens and gets focused on the retina. To help produce a sharp image, the lens must remain clear.

What are the symptoms of a cataract?

  • A painless blurring of vision
  • Glare, or light sensitivity
  • Poor night vision
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Needing brighter light to read

How fast does a Cataract develop?
How quickly the cataract develops varies among individuals and may even be different between the two eyes. Most age-related cataracts progress gradually over a period of years. Other cataracts, especially in younger people and people with diabetes, may progress rapidly over a short time. It is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will develop in any given person.

How is a cataract detected?
By performing a thorough eye examination, your eye surgeon can detect the presence of a cataract. A careful evaluation also will rule out any other conditions that may be causing blurred vision or other eye problems. Problems with other parts of the eye (such as the cornea, retina or optic nerve) can be responsible for vision loss and may prevent you from having much or any improvement in vision after cataract surgery. If improvement in your vision is unlikely, cataract removal may not be recommended. Your eye surgeon can tell you how much visual improvement is likely.

How is a cataract treated?
A cataract is treated with surgery. An experienced eye surgeon will remove your cloudy lens and replace it with a clear, plastic lens implant. Cataract surgery is extremely successful in restoring vision and is one of the most common surgical procedures performed each year in the UK. It is also one of the quickest operations. There are several different types of lens that can be used during cataract surgery, including premium lenses that reduce spectacle dependence after surgery.

When does a cataract require treatment?
Surgery should be considered when cataracts cause enough loss of vision to interfere with your daily activities. It is not true that cataracts need to be "ripe" before they can be removed or that they need to be removed just because they are present.

Cataract surgery can be performed when your visual needs require it. You must decide if you can see well enough to do your job, drive safely, and read or watch TV in comfort. Does your vision allow you to perform daily tasks, such as cooking, shopping, doing yard work or taking medications without difficulty? Based on your symptoms, you and your ophthalmologist should decide together when surgery is appropriate.

Cataracts are a common cause of decreased vision, particularly for the elderly, but they are treatable. Your ophthalmologist can tell you whether cataract or some other problem is the cause of your vision loss and can help you decide if cataract surgery is appropriate for you.

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