When people have been told that they have a cataract, often their reaction might be that of concern and fear about complete loss of sight. This is a normal reaction and is often based on a lack of understanding about what cataract actually is and what can be done to correct the condition.
What is Cataract?
When a cataract develops it is a clouding or opacity of the lens which is inside the eye. People often describe cataract as ‘looking through a chiffon scarf’. In order to understand what a cataract is, it is useful to learn a little about how the eye works.
Inside the eye, behind the coloured part of the eye (iris) with the black hole in the centre (pupil) is a lens. In the normal eye the lens is clear or transparent. It helps to focus light rays on to the tissue at the back of the eye (retina).
When cataract develops the lens becomes cloudy and prevents the light rays passing into the retina. The picture that the retina receives becomes dull and fuzzy. Cataract usually forms slowly and people experience a gradual blurring of vision.
Q. Do cataracts spread from eye to eye?
A. No. But often they develop in both eyes at the same time.
Q. Has my cataract been caused by overuse of my eyes?
A. No. Cataract is not caused by overuse of the eyes and using the eyes when cataract starts to develop will not make the cataract worse.
Q. Are there different kinds of cataract?
A. Yes. Cataracts can be caused by injuries to the eye. A cut, blow or burn to the eye can cause damage to the lens inside the eye. This type of cataract is called a traumatic cataract.
Q. Can children have a cataract?
A. Yes. Babies can be born with this condition. This is called congenital cataract.
Q. My cousin developed cataract, he has diabetes, is there a link?
A. Yes. Cataract is more common in people who have certain diseases such as diabetes.
Q. My friend tells me that anyone can develop cataract, it’s part of growing old!
A. Most forms of cataract develop in adult life. The normal process of ageing causes the lens to harden and become cloudy (opaque). This is called age-related cataract and it is the most common type. It can occur anytime after the age of 40.
Q. “I didn’t know that I had cataract until my optometrist told me!”
A. Some people may or may not be aware that cataract is developing It can start at the edge of the lens and initially may not cause problems with vision. Generally, as cataract develops, people experience blurring or hazing of vision. Often they become more sensitive to light and glare.
Q. “I seemed to have to go to my optometrist more often to get new glasses.”
A. There may be a need to get new prescriptions for glasses more often when cataract is developing. When cataract worsens, stronger glasses no longer improve sight. Objects have to be held close to the eye to be seen. The hole in the iris (pupil) may no longer look black, a white or yellow appearance may be seen. The lens behind the pupil becomes more dense and cloudy (opaque) as the cataract develops.
Q. When do I have my cataract treated?
A. When cataract progresses to the point that it is interfering with daily activities and normal lifestyle, cataract surgery is usually indicated.
Q. Could anything have been done to stop me developing cataract?
A. There is no known prevention for cataract. Modern surgery is highly successful for the majority of patients.
Q. I thought that nowadays cataract is quickly removed with a laser beam?
A. Surgery is the only effective way to remove the cloudy lens. Cataract cannot be removed with a laser beam.
Q. I have cataract developing in both eyes – do I have treatment to both eyes at the same time?
A. No. It is common for cataract to develop more quickly in one eye than the other. The timing of an operation is decided by the ophthalmologist. Usually, the more seriously affected eye is operated on first.
Q. What does the operation involve?
A. Removal of the lens involves an operation which makes a tiny opening into the eye at the edge of the cornea.