Cataracts are a cloudiness that can form in the clear lens of the eye. Poor vision results because the cloudiness interferes with light entering the eye and reaching the retina.
The clear lens in the eye adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making vision more blurred or hazy.
A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.
Almost everyone over the age of 60 years has some sign of cataracts. Most cataracts progress slowly, gradually causing vision to deteriorate. If untreated, cataracts can cause blindness but this is rare in Australia due to ready access to eye care and cataract surgery.
Cataracts are usually a result of ageing and long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, although they can be caused by injury, disease or exposure to toxic materials. Occasionally, babies are born with cataracts.
Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataract, such as smoking and diabetes. It may be that the protein in the lens just changes from the wear and tear it takes over the years.
What are the risk factors?
The risk of cataract increases as you get older. Other risk factors for cataract include;
- Certain diseases such as diabetes.
- Personal behaviour such as smoking and alcohol use.
- Environmental, such as prolonged exposure to sunlight.
What can I do to protect my vision?
Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods high with antioxidants.
What are the symptoms?
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Colours seem faded
- Glare. Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright. A halo may appear around lights.
- Poor night vision.
- Double vision or multiple images in one eye.
- Frequent prescription changes in your spectacles or contact lenses.
These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, please see your optometrist.
How is a cataract detected?
Cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes;
- Visual Acuity Test – this eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
- Biomicroscopy – this test involves using a biomicroscope, which is a microscope connected to a light source. This allows the optometrist to examine the patient’s lens under optimum high magnification and lighting conditions.
What treatments are available?
The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in Australia. It also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterwards.
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