What are cataracts?

Medically reviewed by Khuram Sarwar, Dispensing Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Cataract is a common eye condition that affects millions of people worldwide. This condition is characterised by the clouding of the eye's natural lens, which can lead to blurred or distorted vision. The lens, which is normally clear, becomes opaque due to the buildup of protein, hindering the passage of light and affecting vision.

Cataracts develop gradually with age and may take years before they start to affect vision. The progression of cataracts can vary from person to person, and it's difficult to predict how fast they'll develop. In some cases, cataracts may not even require treatment, and people may continue to live with them without experiencing any significant vision loss.

Who do cataracts affect mostly?

Cataracts are commonly seen among older people, while some cases of cataracts can be found in children as well.

Age-related cataracts

Cataracts are most common among people over 40. As we grow old, the lenses of our eyes can start becoming frosted, limiting our field of vision and the ability to see. When you are young, the lens of your eye is clear and allows you to see things with clarity. However, as you age, the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down and clump together, making your lenses cloudy. As time passes, the cataract becomes more severe, causing your lens to be clouded.

Childhood cataracts

Cataracts primarily occur in older adults, but it is possible for babies to be born with them. Children can also develop cataracts at an early age, which are referred to as childhood cataracts.

What are the signs or symptoms of cataracts

Here are some of the most common observed signs and symptoms of cataracts:

  1. Blurry vision: one of the signs of cataracts is having blurry vision. You might notice that your eyesight is not as sharp as it used to be and that objects appear hazy or cloudy.
  2. Sensitivity to light: people with cataracts may experience an increased sensitivity to bright light, which can cause glare or discomfort. You might find yourself squinting more often or avoiding bright environments.
  3. Difficulty seeing at night: cataracts can make it difficult to see in low light conditions, such as at night. You might have trouble driving at night or walking in dimly lit areas.
  4. Fading colours: colours may appear less vivid or faded, and you might notice a yellowish tint on your vision. This can affect your ability to distinguish between different colours, particularly shades of blue and purple.
  5. Double vision: cataracts can cause double vision in one or both eyes which means you can see two images of the same object. This can be especially noticeable when looking at distant objects or reading small print. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to consult your optician for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

What is the main cause of cataracts?

The main cause of cataracts is the natural ageing process. When the proteins in the eye lens clump together as we age, it leads to clouding of the lenses. However, other factors contribute to cataract development, including:

  • Genetics: family history of developing cataracts can increase the risk
  • UV radiation: prolonged exposure to harmful UVA/B rays of the sun
  • Medical conditions: diabetes, hypertension, or eye injuries
  • Intake of certain medications: long-term use of steroids or specific medications.

Types of cataracts

Different types of cataracts include:

  • Nuclear cataracts - these types of cataracts affect the centre of the eye lenses and can cause nearsightedness at first. However, over time, the lens turns yellow and causes your vision to become cloudier.
  • Cortical cataracts- this type of cataracts starts as white streaks on the outer part of the lens cortex. As cataracts develop, the streaks extend to the centre of the lens, interfering with the light passing through it.
  • Posterior subcapsular cataracts- this usually begins as a small opaque area near the back of the lens. It can interfere with reading and may cause you to see glare/halos around lights.
  • Congenital cataracts- some people are born with these cataracts. The causes may be infections (chickenpox and rubella) passed on from mothers while babies are still in the womb, genetic faults and eye injuries picked up after birth.

Is cataract curable?

While there is no cure for cataracts, they can be treated through surgery. Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). The procedure is safe and effective and has a high success rate in restoring clear vision.

How to treat cataracts?

Cataract surgery is the most common and effective treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery is a quick and easy procedure that takes 30-45 minutes. It involves a small incision in the eye to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear plastic lens. Typically done as a day surgery under local anaesthetic, you should be able to go home the same day.

How do we prevent cataracts from getting worse?

While some risk factors, such as age and genetics, are beyond our control, there are steps to reduce the risk of cataract and slow its progression:

  • Protect your eyes: wear sunglasses that block harmful UVA/B rays of the sun from reaching your eyes
  • Maintain a healthy diet: include antioxidants like vitamins C and E in your diet
  • Regular eye exams: consult with your optician for the frequency of eye tests as eye exams can help in identifying cataracts at their earliest stages.
  • Manage underlying health conditions: control diabetes and hypertension
  • Quit smoking: tobacco increases the risk of cataracts

Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace medical care or an in-person check-up. Please check with an eyecare professional before purchasing any products or remedies. For information on our article review process, please refer to our Editorial Policy.

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