Welcome to the next blog in our series about common eye conditions. This month we are talking about cataracts, which is a very common age-related eye condition. Cataracts can occur in one eye or in both eyes, and causes your vision to appear blurred, dim or misty. If left untreated it can lead to blindness.
A cataract forms when the transparent lens inside your eye just behind the iris becomes cloudy or misty. This happens over time and as we already mentioned, it is most commonly associated to the natural ageing process. However, cataracts can be caused by a number of influences, such as trauma, systemic diseases such as diabetes, high myopia, long term use of medications or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
The lens inside your eye helps to focus light on the retina and also protects the retina by absorbing ultraviolet light. Over time protein builds up and the lens mists and becomes cloudy. Some people refer to the effect as looking through a dirty window. Depending where the cataract forms you may not notice any visual difficulties, or you may experience less clear vision. Cataracts develops at different rates; some develop quickly, and patients notice changes within a few months, whilst others can take years to develop.
Many people experience changes in their vision and will need to change their optical prescription. If you have cataracts it can also make colours appear to fade or become more yellow. Vehicle headlights may dazzle, and some people experience difficulties moving from shaded areas into direct sunlight.
To recap, if you have experienced any of the following symptoms it is important to see an Optometrist for an eye examination as soon as possible:
- Blurred, dim or misty vision
- Difficulty seeing in low light or at nighttime
- Sensitivity to light
- Colours look faded or muted
- Seeing a ‘halo’ around bright lights
How do you treat cataracts?
There are various supplements and eye drops available which claim to slow the progression of cataracts. However, there are no scientific studies to qualify these claims. A good balanced diet, not smoking and wearing good quality sunglasses will help to protect against the development of cataracts.
The only treatment for cataracts is to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a new plastic lens. If you have cataracts in both eyes the procedure is normally carried out on one eye at a time, which allows you to recover before proceeding with the second eye.
The NHS carries out this procedure once the cataract has reached a specific level and your vision has dropped to a certain level on the testing chart. Alternatively, you can have the procedure done through a private clinic. Whichever route you decide on, your Optometrist will make the referral to the Ophthalmologist, who will make an initial assessment to ensure that the procedure is suitable.
Most cataract operations are carried out under local anaesthetic, where the patient is awake but anaesthetic drops are used to numb the area around the eye. A keyhole procedure is used to remove the cloudy lens and a new plastic replacement lens is inserted. The whole procedure normally takes about 30-45 minutes. Stitches are not normally needed, and your eye is covered with a protective shield.
Recovery after cataracts surgery
After the procedure you would need to administer eye drops for about 2 weeks. You should also avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise, avoid wearing make-up, swimming and generally protect your eye to prevent anything getting into the area and causing irritation. All patients are given full details of what to do and what not to do after the procedure, and when to see their Optometrist for a post cataract appointment, which is normally 4-6 weeks afterwards.
After a cataract has been removed and replaced with a new artificial lens, many people find that they no longer need corrective lenses for distance vision. However, the majority of people will still need a pair of spectacles for reading.
This would be explained at the follow up examination with the Optometrist. This is also the time that your optician will refer you, should your second eye require the same procedure. This type of operation is routine, and most procedures are successful. But as with all surgery there is always a small risk. Again, this would be explained to the patient at their initial consultation.
If you have noticed changes in your vision or have any concerns about the health of your eyes, we recommend making an appointment to see an Optometrist. Regular eye examinations every two years are vital to help keep your eyes healthy and also help early detection of eye conditions like cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
You can arrange for an eye check-up by calling us on 01858 433 577 or book an eye test by filling out your details on our online appointment booking form.