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A cataract is not a growth as is commonly thought. It is clouding of the crystalline lens, which may develop at any age and in several different ways. As it develops, light cannot pass through the lens properly and vision becomes misty or foggy.

Cataracts are more common in older age. In fact, in older age, they are not really a disease, but more of a normal ageing process. It is like hair turning grey and cannot be avoided. If any person lives long enough, he/she will eventually develop cataracts. And similar to greying of hair, it happens a little sooner in some cases and a little later in others.

They may also follow injury or inflammation and are referred to as secondary cataracts, or may be developmental, occurring at or shortly after birth and are then termed congenital.

Early cataracts may not affect vision and do not require treatment until the patient becomes aware of failing sight and/or problems with glare in bright lights. One of the most common early symptoms of cataracts is glare with oncoming car headlights at night. Night driving becomes very difficult as the person has to slow down every time a car comes in the opposite direction.

Types of Cataracts

  • Age related cataract – Due to ageing, the crystalline lens discolours and forms opacities
  • Secondary cataract - forms after surgery for some other eye disease such as glaucoma or from some other disease such as diabetes
  • Traumatic cataract - forms after eye injury, especially direct blows to the eyes
  • Congenital cataract - present at birth due to birth defects, diseases or other problems
  • Radiation cataract - forms after major exposure to radiation. UV radiation is fast becoming a leading cause of early cataracts. The ozone layer acts as a natural filter against UV radiation. As it is getting depleted, we are being exposed to more UV radiation. Other sources include sun-beds, sun-tanning UV lamps, radiology equipment, radiation equipment used in the radio-therapy treatment of cancer.

Symptoms and detection of cataracts

As we have already seen, warning signs of cataracts may include blurred vision and glare from car headlights at night. Sunlight or indoor overhead lighting may seem too bright or cause glare. You may also notice that bright colours appear dull. Sometimes cataracts can cause double vision or you may find that your prescription is changing fast and that you are having to change your spectacles or contact lenses quite frequently. As these symptoms can also be caused by other eye diseases, it is best to have your eyes examined by your eye care practitioner if you are experiencing any of them.

The eye care practitioner will use a special torch to look inside your eyes. This will allow him to examine your crystalline lens as well as to check the optic nerve and retina for any abnormal changes. He can then decide whether you are suffering from cataracts and, if so, whether you need any treatment.

Treatment of cataracts

Treatment is solely surgical. There is no other medical or visual treatment for cataracts. Surgical removal of the crystalline lens will be carried out by an eye surgeon when the person is suffering from too much handicap. With modern surgical techniques, there is no need to wait for a cataract to mature any more. The operation is fairly simple, relatively safe, takes on average less than one hour and can be carried out under local anaesthesia. In most cases, the person does not need hospitalisation and returns home the same day. If hospitalisation is required, it is usually no more than a day. A dramatic improvement in vision is experienced the day after the operation as an artificial intra-ocular lens is now inserted as a replacement for the crystalline lens. There is therefore no need to use thick spectacle lenses anymore after cataract surgery.

It should be noted that a healthy diet with plenty of greens (vegetables and fruits) and a controlled amount of fat and red meat will help in the prevention of early cataracts. Quitting cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are also strongly recommended preventive measures. A pair of good UV400 sunglasses is also strongly advised for outdoor use.

Disclaimer of Medical Liability

Whilst we have taken great care to gather correct information and to keep it current, we cannot guarantee its accuracy and completeness.

The information provided should never be considered a substitute for professional health care by a qualified doctor or other health care professional, which will be tailored to the patient's individual circumstances. We cannot take responsibility if you rely on this information alone.