Common Eye Diseases: Cataract




Cataracts are clouding of the lens inside the eye, usually the result of long-term UV exposure and ageing, causing gradual loss of vision. They are very common and can be easily removed and replaced with a plastic lens by surgery.

What happens when you get a cataract?

The lenses of our eyes are normally clear, allowing us to see through them. A cataract happens when part of the eye becomes cloudy, interfering with the light entering the eye and causing distorted vision.

Are cataracts a kind of growth?

No. Cataracts are NOT like a growth or a tumor that will take over the eye. Cataracts are more like a scab that appears due to a change in the lens material. Cataracts can be easily removed.

What causes cataracts? Most cataracts are a result of ageing and long-term exposure to ultraviolet light. Some are caused by injury and certain diseases and in rare cases by exposure to toxic materials and radiation. Occasionally cataracts are present at birth, due to the baby's mother having had rubella during the pregnancy, or due to genetic defects.

Do cataracts get worse?

Yes. The clouded areas become larger and denser and cause the patient's sight to become worse. Since cataract development varies, sometimes happening over a few months, at other times over many years, it is important to consult your doctor concerning the best type of treatment.

Do cataracts affect both eyes?

Usually cataracts affect both eyes but often they develop at different rates in each eye.

How normal are cataracts?

For people older than 65 years, it is normal to have gray hair and develop ‘age spots’. In the same way, it is quite normal for seniors to show signs of cataracts. However the extent of the cataract varies considerably between individuals of the same age.

What are the signs of cataracts?

Usually the development of cataracts is gradual with a painless worsening of sight. Other symptoms include blurred or hazy vision, spots before the eyes, double vision and a marked increase in sensitivity to glare.

How can I be sure I don't have cataracts? An examination by your optometrist will reveal any changes that have occurred in the lens of the eye. Optometrists have special equipment, which enables them to see changes in the lens, which helps them to detect cataracts several years before any symptoms appear.

Can cataracts cause blindness?

If untreated, cataracts can cause blindness. This can be prevented by detecting the cataracts early and, if necessary, by having them surgically removed. Your optometrist will refer you to an eye specialist if they consider that you need medical treatment for your cataracts.

Can cataracts be prevented?

There is no proven method of preventing cataracts. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet light is thought to induce cataracts, so a brimmed hat and approved sunglasses should be worn in sunlight.

When should I have a cataract operation?

This varies with each patient. Usually cataract surgery is performed when the patient's vision interferes with daily life. Your optometrist will assist you in making this decision.

Is cataract removal a major operation?

Cataract surgery is now a relatively minor procedure. Often it is performed under a local anesthetic. Depending on the patient, the surgery may be performed on an out-patient basis. This means that the patient attends a hospital or clinic for the surgery and is able to go home the same day. An opthalmologist, who is a medical doctor specializing in eye surgery, will perform the operation. Your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary.

How well will I see if my lens is removed?

In most cases patients see very well. Most patients have an intra-ocular lens (IOL) inserted at the time of surgery, with excellent results. This is a plastic lens, which replaces your own cloudy lens. Patients may also need to wear spectacles or contact lenses

Information adapted from Optometrists Association of Australia website. Used with permission.

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