What are cataracts?
A commonly asked question that we get is ‘What are cataracts?’ Cataracts are a cloudiness that forms in the lens of the eye. This cloudiness interferes with light entering the eye resulting in poor vision. Think of it in the same way that the a dirty window affects how well you can see outside of it.
The lens is located behind the iris and the pupil. It works in the same manner as a camera lens by refocusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The lens adjusts the eye’s focus so that you can see clearly at both short and long distance range. The lens is made of of water and protein. As we age some of the protein can clump together and cloud an area of the lens. Over time this can grow larger and and cover more of the lens, subsequently affecting vision.
Who is at risk?
Most cataracts are age-related and are very common in the elderly population. Often they will start in middle-age but will not become apparent or an issue until later on in life. In some cases they can develop secondary to disease (such as diabetes) or from trauma to the eye. Other possible contributors include exposure to radiation, long term exposure to UV light, long term use of steroids or in some causes it is congential at birth. If left untreated cataracts can cause blindness.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Usually the development of cataracts is slow and painless. They usually occur in both eyes but they develop at different rates in each eye. The most common symtoms include:
- Cloudy or blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to glare and bright lights
- Apperance of a ‘halo’ around lights
- Colours seem faded
- Double vision
- Poor night vision
- A brownish or yellowish tint in your vision can occur in advanced tages of a cataract
How are cataracts detected?
An eye examination by your optometrist will reveal any changes to the lens of the eye. Often with advanced equipment, a cataract can be detected years before it causes any noticable changes to your vision. Tests that optometrists routinely do to detect cataracts include a visual acuity test, dilated eye examination and a tonometry.
What is the treatment for cataracts?
A cataract only needs to be surgically removed when vision loss is affecting your everyday activities such as driving, reading, watching TV or recognising faces. You and your optometrist or opthalmologist can make this decision together. It is usually classified as an elective surgery so usually there is no urgency to the decision to have surgery.
The procedure itself involves removing the affected lens and having it replaced with a clear, artificial lens. It is a relatively simple and minor procedure and usually does not require an overnight stay in hospital. It is one of the most common and successful surgeries of today with vision improvements in over 95% of cases.
So if you haven’t had your eyes checked in a while or you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this article call us for an eye examination on 5578-4611.
For information on cataracts see the Optometry Australia and the Fred Hollows Institute websites.