This month, I’d like to discuss the eye condition that I encounter most frequently in everyday practice - cataracts.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside your eye, caused by chemical changes in the proteins within the lens material. It is a very common condition which occurs as part of the natural ageing process in the eyes. In fact, most people over the age of 70 will have some degree of cataract.
Having a cataract causes your vision to become blurry, cloudy or hazy. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re trying to look through dirty spectacles. Also, because cataracts scatter light coming into your eyes, you may experience problems with glare. Your sight may seem better on dull, overcast days, but worse on bright sunny ones. When driving at night, you may notice increased dazzle from oncoming car headlights.
Most cataracts develop very gradually and never get bad enough to need attention. However, more advanced cases can significantly affect your quality of life, causing difficulties driving and spoiling your enjoyment of everyday activities like reading or watching TV. At this stage, you may want to consider surgery.
In the past, sufferers had to wait until their cataracts were “ripe” before they could be operated on. Nowadays, thanks to modern keyhole techniques, cataracts can be removed more safely and at a much earlier stage. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with an artificial plastic lens called an “implant”.
Certain health and lifestyle factors can make you more prone to cataracts. These include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, long-term steroid medication and exposure to UV light. You are also at increased risk if there is a history of cataracts in your family or you have an eye that has previously had surgery or been subject to injury or inflammation.
There is no proven way to prevent cataracts. However, there is growing evidence that addressing the above lifestyle issues can help slow their development. These include eating healthy foods, not smoking, wearing a hat or sunglasses out in the sun, as well as keeping diabetes and blood pressure under control. Also, don’t forget the importance of having regular eye tests to help monitor your eyes for signs of cataracts.