Cataracts: Signs, types and treatments
A cataract is one of the most common eye disorders. It causes blurred or foggy vision and affects millions of people around the world.
Here we outline the types, symptoms and different surgical treatments.
What is a cataract?
As people age, the lens of the eye changes. Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens clump together. The light scatters when passing through the lens because it can no longer focus properly on the retina.
It’s also possible to have this condition from birth or to experience it at a young age. We call these congenital or early-onset cataracts.
You may also be at risk of cataracts due to:
- Eye injury or inflammation
- Previous eye surgery
- Eye diseases
- High blood pressure
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Damage from sunlight
- Regular radiation exposure (X-rays, cancer treatments)
- Taking medicines like corticosteroids or statins for a long time.
As the condition progresses, your vision may decline if it is not treated.
Watch this video to learn more about what a cataract is:
What is the first sign of cataracts?
The first sign is cloudy, dim or blurred vision, like looking through frosted glass.
You may find it increasingly difficult to read text or have reduced night vision. But during the earliest stages you might not notice any differences.
Eye specialists (ophthalmologists) can often identify the issue long before patients experience symptoms themselves. For this reason, regular eye tests are important, especially in people aged 40 and over.
With age-related cataracts, most people’s symptoms worsen over time. Apart from the early signs above, they may cause:
- Seeing ‘halo’ effects around lights
- Finding bright light and glare uncomfortable
- Prolonged double vision
It’s common for both eyes to be affected. But they may not develop simultaneously or to the same extent.
When symptoms progress, your vision becomes cloudier and colours seem less vivid.
Types of cataract
There are four common types. The differences are in their appearance and how they progress.
Congenital cataracts may be present from birth or develop in childhood. They are usually hereditary, but may occur from infection or trauma during a mother’s pregnancy.
Cortical cataracts begin at the outer edges of the lens. They develop as pale streaks or patches. Slowly moving toward the centre, these streaks obstruct light passing through the lens.
Nuclear cataracts appear in the centre of the lens, causing nearsightedness in the initial stages. With time, your lens turns yellow or even brown, which affects colour perception.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts are small, opaque areas that form at the back of the lens, directly in the path of light. It commonly causes glare around lights at night, reading vision problems and light sensitivity.
This condition is not something you’ll just have to accept. In the early stages you can get new subscription glasses or contact lenses to assist your vision. Lifestyle adjustments may reduce your risk factors (see above) and slow the condition’s development.
If your eyesight is more seriously impaired, ophthalmologists recommend surgery. A cataract can be fully treated only with surgery. This involves removing either the affected part from the lens or, in some cases, entire lens replacement.
Basic cataract surgery
Basic cataract surgery is a commonly performed operation. It’s most suited for people whose changes in vision have started affecting everyday life. It involves:
- Removal of the affected part of the lens through a tiny incision
- Inserting a synthetic implant called an intraocular lens (IOL).
The surgery is normally done by an ophthalmologist. It requires no stitches and you should be able to go home that day. Usually you’ll notice a vision improvement within days and fully recover in a few weeks.
Standard surgery restores vision but doesn’t necessarily remove your need to use glasses or contact lenses. If you need both eyes treated, you can choose monovision lenses. They use a near-sighted lens in one eye and a long-sighted lens in the other.
Refractive cataract surgery
Refractive cataract surgery can remove a cataract and correct refractive errors. The ophthalmologist removes the affected area through a small cut and inserts a clear artificial lens.
With private cataract surgery, you can normally opt for either an ‘accommodating’ or ‘multifocal’ type of lens. These enable you to change focus between distant and near objects.
Complex cataract surgery
It’s usually best to remove cataracts once they are causing noticeable vision problems on a regular basis. But other factors may complicate the surgery.
As the condition matures, the lens becomes cloudier, swollen and complex to remove. It also takes longer to recover from the surgery.
You’re more likely to experience complications if you have existing health problems or another eye condition. These include macular degeneration or glaucoma.
Sometimes, this surgery is not enough. If you have underlying illnesses you may want to consider treatments for those first.
Book an appointment
If you notice any changes in your vision, please book an appointment with an eye specialist.
You will have a full assessment of your eyes and vision. If we confirm you have cataracts, you’ll also be able to discuss:
- The risks and benefits of surgery
- What type of treatment may be best for you.