A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye. The lens focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye to form a clear image. Any imperfection or clouding of this lens will prevent light from reaching the retina and affect the quality of your vision. A cataract can cloud part or all of the lens and can develop in one or both of the eyes.
An estimated 2.4 million people aged 65 and older in England and Wales have a visually impairing cataract in one or both eyes. Every year over 300,000 cataract operations are performed on the NHS.
Symptoms will gradually get worse as the cataract develops. In some cases the symptoms may be very subtle as we naturally adjust to changes in our vision over a period of time. In others the symptoms may be very obvious. Symptoms include:
- Blurred vision even with your reading glasses
- Sensitivity to light and poor vision in bright light
- Change of colour perception
Cataracts can be detected during a routine eye examination. The Eyecare Trust recommends that everyone has an eye examination at least every two years and annually if you are aged 70 plus. Eye examinations for the over 60s are free on the NHS. However, additional fees may be payable, as the NHS in Coventry has withdrawn funding for direct referrals.
A straightforward operation to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial one is the only effective way to treat cataracts. However you may not require surgery if your daily routine remains unaffected by the condition. Following an initial consultation your local optician can refer you for surgery.
According to the National Cataract Survey, 80% of all cataract surgery is performed on patients aged 70 year and over. The procedure to remove the clouded lens and implant a small plastic intraocular lens (IOL) is generally carried out under local anaesthetic. Waiting times for cataract surgery have reduced significantly in recent times with the average wait in England being just 69 days.
Although cataracts occur naturally as part of the ageing process, you can reduce your risk of developing cataracts by not smoking and protecting your eyes from the damaging effects of UV by wearing good quality sunglasses or having UV blocking coatings on your spectacles.
Modern IOLs are now designed to help block out harmful blue UV light. There is some evidence that taking special vitamin supplements and low dose aspirin may also help - speak to your optometrist about this.