Inside your eye is a clear lens. It is there to focus rays of light on the back of the eye. As you get older the lens can become less clear: this is known as cataract. It causes problems because the clouding of the lens cuts the amount of light that passes through and scatters the light that does get through, thus dimming and blurring the vision.
More than one in two people aged 65 and older have some signs of cataract, and it is present for almost everyone over 75.
Can it be prevented?
As yet there is no way to prevent cataract. Although there are supplements on the market which claim to help slow the progression of eye problems including cataract, medical opinion is divided on whether these help and there is no robust evidence for their benefits. Professionals suggest eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables. Some research papers show that smoking, poor diet and exposure to sunlight may accelerate cataract development.
Do I have a cataract?
You might start noticing that your vision is less clear than before. A cataract can make things seem blurry, a bit like looking through slightly frosted glass. Some people notice a colour change, particularly if a cataract is present in one eye only, when things develop a yellowish tint. You might find the vision in one eye is more blurred than in the other. People with cataracts can have problems with night vision and find that lights, such as oncoming headlights, cause glare. Equally, bright sunny days can cause problems for the same reason. If you have noticed anything like this happening to you, make an appointment for an eye test.
Cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that most people will experience as they get older. Fortunately it can be treated, often as day surgery. The vast majority of people with cataract will find that their vision is much improved after surgery. The overall success rate of cataract surgery in the UK is over 95 per cent and the chances of a serious or sight-threatening complication are less than 1 in 500. After getting your glasses updated you will be able to carry on with daily life as normal.
When you find that your vision is causing problems with your life, ask your optometrist to write to your GP explaining that you have cataract. (Some optometrists can refer you directly to an eye specialist.) Your GP will arrange for you to be seen at the hospital eye clinic to discuss if an operation to remove the cataract is appropriate. At this appointment the eye specialist will look at your eyes and ask you in detail about any visual problems that you are having. They will also ask about your general health to ensure that the operation is suitable for you. Before agreeing to surgery they will outline the risks and benefits of the operation and make sure that you understand what will happen. Your eyes will be measured to work out the correct strength of replacement lens that would suit you best.
When you have cataract surgery you will be given an anaesthetic so that you don’t feel what is happening. For most people this is a local anaesthetic consisting of an injection or sometimes just eye drops alone. You will be awake, but the anaesthetist will make sure you do not feel the area around your eye. You will hear the eye specialist explaining what they are doing, but you will not see anything that is going on. At most, you will be aware of some vague movements around the eye. The specialist makes a tiny incision in the eye to remove the cataract, and will, in most cases, insert a plastic replacement lens to carry on the job of focussing light on the back of your eye. This will usually take around 30 minutes. Your eye may then be covered to help protect it for the next 24 hours, as it starts to recover.
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