Who develops cataracts?
One-third of people over 65 have cataracts; so the longer you live the more likely you are to develop one. It is a normal part of the ageing process. However, it can also occur at a younger age, where it is sometimes related to previous injuries, certain medications, or chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Some babies are even born with cataracts and these should be assessed by an eye doctor as soon as possible.
What should I do if I think I have a cataract?
Deciding on cataract surgery may not be straight-forward. If you feel your vision is blurred you can get examined by an optometrist or eye doctor. If new glasses don't improve your vision and your doctor tells you there are cataracts then you might want to consider cataract surgery. An eye test can give you an idea of how good your vision is. But doctors don't tend torecommend surgery just based on your eye test. They usually suggest you think about the way you live your life. For example, if you enjoy playing golf or reading, or you need to drive a car, you may want to have cataract surgery sooner.
What if I do not want cataract surgery?
If you choose not to have treatment now, you can always change your mind in the future if your cataracts start to trouble you. You don't have to wait until cataracts get very bad before you have surgery. It's up to you to decide when they're bad enough to need treatment.
Although your sight is likely to be better after you've had a cataract removed, you'll probably still need to wear glasses or contact lenses. So if you can still see well enough with glasses to do the things you want to do, you may want to put off having surgery.
Sometimes, people have another eye problem that needs treating, and the cataract is in the way. For example, some people get damage to the retina because of diabetes etc. If you need surgery for any other condition, your doctor may then recommend that it would be better to have the cataract removed at the same sitting. Sometimes this would also save you having another operation just for the cataract.
Occasionally, another eye condition can mean you won't get much benefit out of cataract surgery. And if your health is generally poor, surgery may have more risks. If this is the case, you may feel it's better to avoid having an operation. If you decide to not to have surgery, there are things you can try to make your life easier. Get new glasses if you need them, as this will maximise your vision. Brighter lighting in your home and especially where you're reading will help. Consider getting an angle-poise lamp or similar light-source for your reading area.
When going out in the bright sunlight, anti-glare sunglasses or a hat with a brim can prevent glare from lights and the sun. Lastly, if you still have difficulty, magnifying lenses may make reading easier - just let your doctor know and they can assess you or send you to an optometrist or 'Low-Vision Aid' clinic for further evaluation of what tools would suit you best.
Fig. 1. Cataract
(Reproduced from Patient Pictures: Ophthalmology, Health Press, Oxford 2001. Illustrated by Dee McLean)
A cataract is basically the lens in the eye going cloudy. As with a camera lens, your lens should be perfectly clear to be able to focus light effectively. Any tiny blemish in the lens can cause symptoms such as glare, ghosting of images or just blurring or cloudiness. As the lens ages it becomes more opaque - this is the most common cause of cataracts.