There are many websites which will give you a detailed medical understanding of cataracts and their treatment. However, we don’t want to simply duplicate their (extensive) information. What this brochure aims to do is give you an understanding of how cataracts and their treatment will affect you - the patient - and your family.
So we don’t have many medical diagrams, but will aim to answer questions like how cataracts might affect your ability to drive, for example, or what to expect during a cataract operation.
A cataract is basically clouding of the lens in the eye. As everything you see has to go through the lens, this clouding seriously affects your vision. Left untreated, it will result in blindness when the lens clouds over completely.
We will all develop some clouding of the lens as we age – specialists would expect to see some lens cloudiness in almost all patients in their 60s onwards. Exactly when it becomes significant enough to be called a cataract is very variable – different people get them at different ages and it depends on your visual needs (some people will notice a deterioration in vision earlier than others). The normal ageing process is the most likely cause of your cataract.
There are many other causes of cataract. For example it may develop as a result of inherited conditions, significant eye injury, inflammation, or other significant eye disease (for instance retinal detachment) or as the result of certain medications (e.g. steroids). Cataract formation is accelerated in diabetics, and can also arise earlier as a result of some childhood infections and other illnesses. Smokers also develop cataracts at an earlier age.
Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t realise. The clouding of your vision happens so gradually that you may not notice. In addition, although cataracts commonly develop in both eyes, the patient may not notice severe blurring of vision in one eye if the other eye still sees well. Most cataracts are identified when people go for a check-up with their optometrist (optician).
Effect of worsening cataracts on vision
Cataracts are generally removed when they start interfering with your daily life, e.g. driving or reading. These days, it is no longer necessary to wait until the cataract is very cloudy before surgery can take place.