Cataracts are a common eye condition and are the main cause of visual impairment globally. They typically affect both eyes, although one eye may be more affected than the other. They form as dense cloudy areas within the clear lens of the eye, eventually interfering with the vision. They generally develop slowly over a period of years, but occasionally can grow more rapidly. Cataracts are painless and do not cause irritation or redness to the eye.

The risk factors for developing cataracts are:

  • An overproduction of oxidants, which are oxygen molecules that have been chemically altered due to normal daily life
  • Regularly drinking excessive alcohol
  • Family history
  • Excessive exposure of your eyes to UV light
  • Radiation therapy
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • A poor diet lacking in vitamins
  • The long term use of steroids
  • Certain health conditions such as diabetes
  • Trauma

There are different type of cataracts and they are classified depending on their location and how they develop in the eye.

  • Nuclear cataracts form in the middle of the lens and cause the nucleus, or the centre, to become yellow or brown
  • Cortical cataracts are wedge-shaped and form around the edges of the nucleus
  • Posterior subcapsular cataracts form faster than the other two types and affect the back of the lens
  • Congenital cataracts are present at birth or form during a baby’s first year. They are less common than age-related cataracts
  • Secondary cataracts are caused by disease or medications. Diseases that are linked with the development of cataracts include glaucoma and diabetes The use of the steroid prednisone and other medications can sometimes lead to cataracts
  • Traumatic cataracts develop after an injury to the eye, but it can take several years for this to happen
  • Radiation cataracts can form after a person undergoes radiation treatment for cancer

Symptoms of cataracts are:

  • Cloudy or blurred vision
  • Increasingly difficult vision at night or in dim light
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Fading of colours or a yellow or brown tinge to some colours
  • Double vision
  • Haloes (circles of light) around lights e.g car headlights or streetlights

Initially as the vision deteriorates, this can be managed with spectacles. However, once the cataracts develop sufficiently or when they start to affect your daily life e.g activities such as driving or reading, surgery is recommended. This relatively straight forward procedure involves removal of the natural lens and replacing it with an artificial one. In most cases, patients can return home within 24 hours of having the surgery.

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How may Cataracts affect my vision