Cataract 101

Have you or someone you know recently been diagnosed with cataracts? Or perhaps you’d just like to know the ins and outs of what exactly a cataract is? We thought we’d put together a brief summary all about cataracts for you. Have a read through, and if you have any questions about cataracts, please feel free to call us and have a chat to one of our friendly orthoptists at Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that can lead to a decrease in vision. The majority of cataracts are due to a natural ageing process and are quite common in people over the age of 60 years.

A cataract can develop in one or both eyes, and cannot spread from one eye to the other. Cataracts generally develop and grow gradually over a period of time, although in certain circumstances they can develop and grow rapidly. Cataracts can also grow at different rates between the two eyes.

What is the lens of the eye?

The crystalline lens of the eye is a clear tissue that helps focus the light that enters the eye. In an eye without a cataract, light passes through the clear lens and is focussed on the retina at the back of the eye. There are 130 million light sensitive cells on the retina that then convert this light into electrical signals that are sent down the optic nerve to the brain, and this is how we see.

The lens of the eye serves to focus the light rays entering the eye so that we see things clearly. The lens flattens so that we can see things far away, and bulges so we can see things up close.

The crystalline lens of the eye is composed of water and protein. As we age, the protein in the lens can form clumps, thus creating a clouding which can start to impact on eye sight. This cloudy area can gradually enlarge, making it difficult to see.

What are the risk factors for cataract?

A cataract is generally caused by the natural ageing process, however, a few risk factors have also been identified.

If you have concurrent disease such as diabetes, this increases the likelihood of developing cataracts. Lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and poor diet can also increase your chances of developing cataracts. Environmental factors such as UV light (sunlight) exposure can also increase the risk of cataract development. There are also certain risk factors which we cannot do much about, for example family history. If you have a close blood relative who has had cataracts develop, you are at a slightly higher chance of developing cataracts too.

So in order to minimise the risk of developing cataracts, make smart lifestyle choices by not smoking, avoiding alcohol, and consuming a healthy balanced diet full of a vast range of fresh fruit and vegetables regularly, and remember to be sun smart by wearing a hat and sunglasses when outdoors.

What are the symptoms of cataract?

In the early stages when a cataract is mild, you may not notice any changes to your vision whatsoever, and you may be surprised if an eye health professional diagnoses you as having cataracts.

Once a cataract develops and grows, you may notice symptoms such as:

Cloudy vision

Blurred vision

Fading or a dimness of colours, or colours loosing their vibrant nature

Glare, especially with oncoming car headlights when driving, or excessive glare with sunlight

Halos or ghosting around lights

Decreased night vision

Double vision

Frequent glasses or contact lens prescription changes, or the feeling that your vision is just not quite right with changes to glasses or contact lens prescription.

What are the different types of cataract?

There are several different types of cataracts.

By far the most common type of cataract is the Age related cataract, which we have described above.

There is also a type of cataract known as a Secondary cataract, which can develop after eye surgery, or secondary to other disease such as diabetes. A secondary cataract can also develop from use of medications such as steroids.

A Traumatic cataract can develop from trauma to the eye region.

A Congenital cataract is a cataract that develops in babies and young children.

A Radiation cataract can occur after exposure to radiation.

How do we know you have a cataract?

Through a comprehensive eye examination performed by a qualified eye health professional such as an ophthalmologist, where a thorough history is taken, vision is assessed, and the pupils of the eyes are dilated to enable a thorough eye check examining all of the eye structures.

How are cataracts treated?

In the early stages of cataract development, often no treatment is required. If you are not symptomatic (i.e. you are not experiencing any vision issues), and your ophthalmologist is happy that the cataracts are not significantly impacting on your vision, then often a wait and see approach is adopted.

Once cataracts have started to cause a significant change in vision, or are impacting your quality of life, or interfering with your ability to perform day to day activities, then it is likely time for treatment of the cataracts.

Once a cataract has reach this stage, the only effective means of treatment is surgical removal of the cataract. Cataract surgery involves the removal of the clouded lens and insertion of a clear, artificial lens in its place.

Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the world, and is a very safe and successful treatment.

Your surgeon will discuss in detail the surgery and weigh up the risks and benefits of cataract surgery with you before making a decision on surgical intervention.

If you are thinking about cataract surgery in Sydney, and you’re looking for a great cataract surgeon, come and meet our team of eye surgeons at Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists. Our cataract surgeons are: Dr Michael Jones, Dr Caroline Catt, Dr Craig Donaldson and Dr Daniel Polya. Our cataract surgeons operate at a variety of public and private hospitals across Sydney including Sydney Eye Hospital, The Save Sight Institute, the brand new and purpose built Chatswood Private Hospital, Hunters Hill Private Hospital and Dalcross Hospital. Please call Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists to make an appointment in our Macquarie street rooms on (02) 9241 2913.