A cataract is when the naturally clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Cataracts usually form slowly over time and may initially only cause a few hazy patches or ‘halo’ effects around objects. The amount of light that passes through the lens is reduced and scattered distorting the image as it increasingly becomes cloudy. The cataract only affects the lens of the eye and it is not a film or growth over the eye. The majority of people affected by cataracts are over 40 years of age however they can develop in younger patients even as young as babies. According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) by the age of 60, there is a 50% chance you will have had some form of cataract and by the age of 70 it increases to more than 90%. Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure performed in Australia. It has a very high success rate and may completely restore or even improve on your previous level of vision.
Cataracts can be categorized into 4 main forms:
- Age Related Cataracts – These are the most common type of cataract.
- Congenital Cataracts – Some babies are born with cataracts or they may develop in early childhood.
- Secondary Cataract – Cataracts are more likely to develop in people who have diabetes or after prolonged use of some medications.
- Traumatic Cataract – A cataract from an eye injury that may occur years later.
In its early stages a cataract may not cause vision problems. However some of the common signs associated with advanced cataracts include:
- Blurred vision
- Glare or light sensitivity
- Reduced night vision
- Distortion or double vision in the affected eye
- A feeling that everything is hazy or foggy
- Improvement in near vision
Cataracts can be easily diagnosed with an eye examination. If you notice any changes in your vision you should have your vision checked by a GP or optometrist and request a referral to your Ophthalmologist.
Although it is not fully understood the causes of cataracts, it is known that you are at an increased risk if you:
- Are over 50 years of age
- Have a family history of cataracts
- Suffer from diabetes
- Have had a trauma or injury to the eye (this could be years earlier)
- You have exposed your eyes to sunlight over extended period of time without protection
- You are or have previously been a smoker
- You suffer from poor circulation
Wearing UV-protective sunglasses and a hat whenever you are in the sun can reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
At first, vision can be aided by new glasses, stronger lighting and other visual aids. However, as the cataract becomes denser, surgery is often the only effective treatment.
Cataract Surgery is usually a day-only procedure, performed by your ophthalmologist under local anaesthetic with light sedation administered by a specialist anaesthetist.
Anywhere between a few months to 4-5 years after cataract surgery about 10% of patients each year experience blurred vision or have difficulty with glare and loss of visual clarity compared to what they experienced immediately after surgery. (This will increase by 10% each year after surgery and by 5 years it will be 50% chance). This is the result frosting or thickening developing behind where the intraocular lens was inserted during the cataract surgery. This condition is known as Posterior Capsule Opacity.
If you have any concerns, or your vision is not improving after your procedure, please contact the Launceston Eye Institute on 03 6344 1377, or after hours at the Launceston General Hospital on 03 6348 7111.