A cataract is the clouding of the lens in the eye. The lens is a transparent disc located behind the eye's pupil, and it allows light to pass through to the retina. With ageing, the lens becomes less flexible, less transparent and thicker. Tissues in the lens break down and clump together, clouding small areas within the lens. As the condition develops, the cataracts spread, blocking light transmission to the eye and causing the vision to become blurry. For people with cataracts it can feel as if they were looking through a foggy window.
Cataracts usually develop slowly, and might not interfere with your sight at first. However, as the condition progresses, people with cataracts might find it difficult to recognise people's faces or expressions and struggle to perform daily activities like reading or driving.
They generally form in both eyes, but they might develop at a different pace. If they are more advanced in one of the eyes, this will cause a difference in vision between the eyes. Cataracts are not usually painful, although they can be if they are in an advanced state or if you have other eye conditions.
In this article we'll have a look at the different types of cataracts, their symptoms and what you can do to make living with this condition easier.
Symptoms of Cataracts
- Eyesight feels blurred or hazy.
- Higher sensitivity to light and glare.
- A loss of contrast and higher difficulty to see in low light.
- Seeing glares or halos around lights, especially at night.
- Colours appear faded, so its difficult to distinguish between some of them (i.e., black and navy look the same).
- Letters might appear faded and not as distinct.
(Vision without cataracts)
(Vision with cataracts)
Types of Cataracts
Nuclear Cataracts: They form in the centre of the lens and can cause immediate nearsightedness or even a temporary improvement in your reading vision. However, the lens gradually turns more densely yellow and causes your vision to blur.
Cortical Cataracts: Characterised by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens. As the condition develops, these opacities extend to the centre of the lens and interfere with the transmission of light.
Subcapsular Cataracts: They occur at the back of the lens, usually blocking light transmission to the eye. This type tends to develop faster than the others and can affect your reading vision, make your eyes more sensitive to bright light and cause halos to appear around lights at night.
Congenital Cataracts: Although extremely rare, some people might develop cataracts during childhood or even be born with them. It might have little or no effect on the child's vision but, if it does, surgery might be required.
Causes of Cataracts
- Ageing, the risk increases as we get older.
- Excessive exposure to sunlight and damaging UV light.
- Smoking, which damages blood vessels and the structure of the eye.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- High cholesterol and obesity
- Previous eye surgery or eye injury.
- Genetics. Some families have a history and greater tendency for the condition.
Prevention is really important. Changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables and reducing your alcohol intake can help you reduce the risk of developing cataracts. It is also important that you protect your eyes from the sunlight by wearing sunglasses with UV protection when outdoors.
Regular eye examinations are vital, too, and you should have one at least every two years. If your optician thinks you have cataracts, you might be referred to an eye specialist who will run more tests and help you understand your condition better. Make sure to book an appointment with your eye specialist if you notice any changes on your vision.
Living with Cataracts
If you have cataracts, you can help your vision by using glasses and magnifiers with a stronger magnification or improving lighting conditions in your home and when you read or perform other tasks.
However, when cataracts have progressed enough that they seriously affect your sight and daily life, you could consider undertaking surgery. Surgery is the only existing treatment for cataracts, as there are no medicines or eye drops that have been proven to either improve them or stop them from getting worse.
It is usually a safe and short operation that is carried out under local anaesthetic. Patients should be able to go home on the same day. During the operation, the surgeon makes a tiny cut in the eye to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear plastic lens. If cataracts are present in both eyes, they will be removed in two separate operations, usually carried out a few weeks apart. This gives time for the eye to heal and for the vision to return.
Cataract surgery has a high success rate in normal eyes. After the operation, most people will need to wear glasses for, at least, some tasks, like reading.
Low Vision Aids, Lighting and Technology
A number of tools and devices can help people with cataracts carry out daily activities and maintain their independence. Low Vision Aids can be helpful for many daily tasks.
High quality sunglasses, such as the ones in our range, can help protect your eyes from damaging UV light. Their colour filters can also enhance contrast and improve object definition, helping you enjoy your time outdoors.