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Cataracts: What are they, what are the symptoms and how are they treated

Did you know that an astonishing 30% of individuals aged 65 and above are estimated to have a visually impairing cataract in one or both eyes? That's nearly a third of our older population!

But don't worry, over 90% of cataract cases can be successfully treated. This means that if you or a loved one are part of that 30%, there's a high chance that your vision can be restored or even improved.

What is a cataract?

Contrary to popular belief, skin growing over the eye doesn't create cataracts.

A cataract is an eye condition where the lens in our eyes becomes cloudy and affects how light enters the eye. They form inside the eye, not on it.

A cataract can develop in either one or both of your eyes as part of the natural ageing of the eye.

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts usually happen as a result of ageing, but other factors can contribute to the development of cataracts, such as:

  • long-term exposure to ultraviolet light
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • previous eye injury or inflammation
  • prolonged use of corticosteroid medications
  • drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • exposure to radiation from X-rays and cancer treatments

What does vision look like with cataracts and what are the symptoms?

Cataracts can affect your vision and cause sight loss as the condition progresses.

  • As the condition causes cloudy or blurry vision, it can be difficult to see detail in the world around us.
  • It may become harder to carry out daily activities such as driving or even recognising faces.
  • The condition may also cause fading of colours, difficulty seeing in dim lit conditions and finding bright lights dazzling.
  • If you currently wear glasses, it may often seem like your glasses are dirty even when they're clean.

Many people ignore and dismiss gradual loss of sight as a normal part of aging. As a result, they do not report it.

And as cataracts develop very gradually, you may not even notice the changes to your eyesight.

That's why it's important to attend your regular sight test to help diagnose or monitor the condition.

Can cataracts cause blindness?

It would be unusual to go completely blind from cataracts.

Several factors influence the progression of cataracts among individuals. Some cataracts develop slowly over the course of several years, while others may progress more rapidly in a matter of months.

Are cataracts hereditary/genetic?

People don't typically consider the most common type of cataract to be hereditary. However, there are certain genetic disorders that can increase the risk of developing cataracts.

Nonetheless, environmental factors and lifestyle choices also play a significant role in cataract development.

How are cataracts treated?

Our Opticians here at OutsideClinic will be able to diagnose cataracts and work with you to come up with a treatment plan if required. This could involve prescribing glasses or referring you for surgery.

If you go down the surgery route, there is no need to worry. A cataracts operation is a quick and routine procedure. In fact, usually, the surgery takes place during an outpatient appointment.

Of course, with any surgery there are risks. However, cataract surgery is one of the most common operations in the UK and is highly successful.

Even if you wear glasses, you may still need them after surgery, likely with a revised prescription because the surgery will have altered the eye lens(es).

It’s also worth noting that, in some cases, vision with cataracts can improve just by wearing the correct prescriptions glasses, so surgery may not always be necessary.

Can I drive with cataracts?

Whether you can drive with cataracts largely depends on how much they affect your vision.

In the early stages, cataracts may not significantly affect your ability to drive. However, as the cataracts progress, they can start to cause blurred vision, glare from headlights or the sun, halos around lights, or reduced night vision, all of which can make driving unsafe.

If you have cataracts and are concerned about your ability to drive, it is important to discuss this with your Optician.

Are cataracts considered a disability?

Since surgery can effectively treat cataracts, people don't typically consider them a disability.

However, if left untreated, they can lead to significant visual impairment which could potentially qualify as a disability under certain criteria.

It's also worth noting that other underlying health conditions associated with cataracts, such as diabetes, could potentially qualify as a disability.

The insights and expertise shared in this article are brought to you by...

Matthew Burford BSc(Hons) Optometry MCOptom, Professional Services Manager at OutsideClinic

Matthew graduated from Aston University in 2004 before finding his passion for domiciliary eye care and joining OutsideClinic in 2005.

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