What is a cataract?
A cataract is the clouding of the crystalline lens in the eye. People with cataracts may describe their vision as though they are looking through a foggy or frosty window and often find it difficult to read, drive or complete other daily activities.
Most cataracts are age-related and occur due to progressive changes that naturally develop in the lens over the years. However, younger people can also develop cataracts. Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in adults worldwide.
When a cataract first develops, it may not produce any symptoms. As a cataract matures, however, it will begin to cause changes in vision, and you may notice symptoms such as:
- Cloudy, blurry or dim vision
- Needing brighter lighting conditions for reading and other activities requiring fine vision
- Difficulty with seeing well at night – particularly driving at night
- Light and glare sensitivity
- Seeing a halo around lights
- Fading or yellowing of colours
Causes of cataracts
Cataracts typically develop when ageing or injury changes the substance that makes up the crystalline lens of the eye. Early in life, our lenses are clear, allowing focused and unobstructed vision. As we get older, the specialised lens proteins begin to break down and clump together. These clumps cloud vision and create a yellowing of the lens – this is known as a cataract.
It follows that the risk of developing a cataract increases with age. Other factors that can be involved in developing a cataract include:
- Previous eye injury or inflammation
- Sunlight exposure
Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your eyes and delay the development of cataracts. When outdoors, you should wear sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat to protect your eyes from the sun. Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can also help maintain your eyes’ health. Regular eye examinations will detect the early changes associated with cataract.
Diagnosis of a cataract
Diagnosis of a cataract is straight-forward. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will perform a thorough eye examination including use of dilating eye drops to widen your pupil. This allows the lens to be assessed using a slit lamp, which will disclose the extent of cataract.
The only way to remove a cataract is through surgery; however, you may not need this procedure straight away. Your ophthalmologist will help you decide when surgery is appropriate, and provide advice for managing your cataract in the meantime.
If a cataract is only in its early stages, you may be able to make small changes to improve your vision. This may include using brighter lighting at home and work, wearing anti-glare sunglasses, and updating your glasses prescription.
When your cataract begins to cause vision troubles that interfere with your daily routine, despite the above measures, it may be time to consider surgery.
Cataract surgery involves removing the clouded lens using microscopic ultrasound techniques and replacing it with a new, artificial lens inserted through a small wound in the eye. A variety of artificial lenses are available for implantation, and these options will be discussed with you prior to surgery, to ensure the best lens to suit your eye and visual needs can be selected. Cataract surgery is a commonly performed procedure and is very safe. Cataract surgery is one of Dr Pappalardo’s special interests.
Get in touch to see Dr Juanita Pappalardo
Dr Pappalardo is a Specialist Ophthalmologist with expansive experience in treating a range of common eye diseases, including cataract. If you believe that you have a cataract, get in touch to plan your visit with Dr Pappalardo.