What are Cataracts? No Longer an ‘Old Age’ Condition
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, worldwide, and are estimated to affect over half of people aged over 80 in the UK. Most cases are linked to ageing, but that isn’t to say that cataracts is only an “old age” condition.
As we age, our eyes go through a number of normal changes – one of which is the development of cataracts. However, cataracts can also develop for other reasons, including after an eye injury or after undergoing surgery for another eye condition such as glaucoma.
But the good news is, cataracts are a treatable condition. In fact, hundreds of thousands of cataract surgeries are performed each year in England alone! But what actually causes cataracts? What do they look like and how are they treated?
What are Cataracts
For most of our lives, the lenses in our eyes are usually completely clear – like glass. This is important, as it is through these lenses that light is passed, enabling our eyes to send a clear picture to our brain of the world around us. Cataracts affect the proteins in the lenses, causing them to become cloudy.
In some cases, these cloudy obstructions may also develop a brown or yellowish tint which can alter how we see colours. These symptoms combine to limit your vision – particularly in low-light conditions.
In the video below, Mr Glenn Carp explains the development of cataracts in more detail.
While cataracts most commonly occur in both eyes, this is not always the case. They might develop in each eye at different times and may vary in severity – in fact, it is common that one eye is more significantly affected than the other.
The development of cataracts can affect various aspects of your life. For example, you may begin to find it difficult to read, drive, and even carry out everyday tasks and exercise. If cataracts are left to develop, untreated, they can eventually lead to blindness.
In some cases, however, while cataracts may be visible in your lenses, they don’t have any effect on your vision.
There are three types of age-related cataracts:
- Nuclear sclerotic cataracts
- Cortical cataracts
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts
The development of cataracts is now largely considered a natural part of ageing. However, in less common circumstances, they can develop in young people and children. For example:
- Congenital cataracts can be present from birth or early childhood;
- Secondary cataracts may appear after the onset of other health conditions, such as diabetes, or after steroid use;
- Traumatic cataracts can form after an injury to the eye (either immediately or in the years following);
- Radiation cataracts can occur after exposure to ionising radiation.
What to do if you have cataracts
If you have become aware of any of the symptoms mentioned in this article (reduced ability to see clearly, cloudy formation in your lens, etc), you should consult your eye doctor as soon as possible. While this can be scary and daunting, there is usually no need to worry – most people don’t need to be rushed into surgery for cataracts.
Still, if you feel that there is a problem, don’t delay in taking action.
Today, there’s a wide range of eye exams and tests that professionals use in order to check for and accurately diagnose cataracts.
The good news, as we mentioned earlier, is that most cases of cataracts can be effectively treated with cataract surgery. This may not be the first call of action if your cataracts are in the very early stages and are not getting in the way of everyday activities.
For example, in the early stages of cataract development, new glasses or contact lenses may be prescribed to help you see better. However, surgery is the only way to get rid of a cataract.
Cataract Surgery (IOLs)
Cataract surgery involves removing the natural lens of the eye that has become clouded with protein deposits. This natural lens is then replaced with an artificial one – known as an intraocular lens (IOL).
IOLs are an incredibly effective treatment option for cataracts. However, as everyone’s eyes are different, it is important to accurately determine which lenses are the best fit for you. At London Vision Clinic, we have access to the complete range of commercially available IOLs and the most up-to-date technology. This allows our surgeons to ensure a perfect fit for every patient.
In the video below, Mr Glen Carp explains the approaches to treating cataracts.
While cataracts are now considered a natural part of the eyes’ ageing process, a number of factors have been found to increase the risk and acceleration of their development. Some of these risk factors we have already discussed (existing health conditions, steroid use, eye injury), but according to the National Eye Institute, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and spending too much time in the sun may also increase your risk of developing cataracts.
Cataracts can be effectively treated with the help of cataract surgery; however, failure to act can lead to significant vision loss and even blindness. If you are concerned about your vision, it is important to speak to an eye care professional as soon as possible.