Cataracts are extremely common particularly as we age. In fact virtually everyone over the age of 60 will have some degree of cataract. The other risk factors are exposure to UV light, smoking, family history of early onset cataracts, diabetes and certain medications for example long term steroids. Also an injury to the eye can cause cataract. Babies are occasionally born with them. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures in the UK, with approximately half a million performed each year.
A cataract forms when the lens which sits behind the pupil starts to become cloudy .There are different types of cataract and they can occur in different parts of the lens. If it occurs in the centre it can often cause you to become more short-sighted, or if it occurs near the back of the lens even a small amount of cataract can be visually disabling. For most people the changes occur slowly although in a few individuals it can occur more rapidly.
The common symptoms are cloudy or blurred vision, increase in glare especially at night with car headlights, needing more light to read, needing to change spectacles more frequently, doubling or ghosting of vision in one eye and colours may look faded or yellowed. They tend to occur in both eyes but often each eye may be affected differently.
Mild cataract can usually be managed with a change of spectacles and increased lighting. However as we age and the cataract progresses, often surgery is required, particularly if it starts to affect your ability to carry out daily tasks such as reading, cooking and driving. For drivers it is important that you maintain and meet the legal standards for driving.
If surgery is required the cloudy lens is replaced with a plastic one, where the surgeon makes a small cut in the eye, usually under local anaesthetic. This takes approximately 15 to 45 minutes. Before having surgery you will have an assessment to determine your suitability, and have your eyes measured for the plastic lens implant. This will reduce any long or short-sightedness and means you may be less dependent on spectacles after surgery.