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A focus on cataracts

A cataract is common, easily diagnosed, and highly treatable. And its success rate makes cataract treatment the UK’s most common surgical procedure.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a common clouding of the lens that can affect vision in older people, although there are certain types that affect younger people as well.

Cataracts in old age are extremely common – some 300,000 procedures to treat them take place in the UK every year, making it the country’s most regularly performed operation. In fact, cataracts are the cause of some form of visual impairment for most people aged over 65 in the UK.

It’s worth taking a minute to understand what a cataract is, what its symptoms are and how to treat it. Whether for your own benefit or for an elderly relative, this is particularly appropriate as June is Cataract Awareness Month for 2016. Throughout the month, people are especially encouraged to have their eyes tested for signs of cataracts and other potentially sight-threatening conditions, like age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

What causes cataracts?

Your lens is a clear disc, made of water and protein that focuses light on to the retina at the back of the eye to ensure the brain receives a clear, sharp visual image. With age, the protein can often start to clump together, creating increasingly opaque obstacles for the light to pass through. This in turn reduces the sharpness of the image reaching the retina, causing your vision gradually to worsen over time.

Although, this is less common, your lens may slowly become yellow or brown. While this doesn’t cause as much deterioration in the sharpness of the image, it will make it more difficult to identify and differentiate between blues, blacks and purples.

Warning signs of cataracts to look out for 

In the early stages of developing a cataract, the warning signs include blurred vision, faded colours, problems with glare, poor night vision and double vision (sometimes extending to multiple images in one eye). Talk to an eye-care professional if you’re worried about any of these symptoms, or if you feel your prescription for spectacles or contact lenses is changing more frequently than you would expect.

There are steps you can take to protect your sight, including wearing sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat in bright weather, giving up smoking, cutting back on alcohol and eating foods that are packed with antioxidants, like fruit and leafy vegetables.

A professional eye examination can diagnose cataracts

If you are concerned, you should rapidly arrange for a comprehensive eye examination, including a dilated eye exam. This involves the use of eye drops to widen your pupils, allowing your ophthalmologist to study your retina and optic nerve using a magnifying lens.

Cataracts treatment through non-surgical methods

Even if a cataract is diagnosed, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have to have surgery straightaway. Many people benefit from new spectacles, better lighting, antiglare sunglasses or magnifying lenses. But if these do not help, cataract surgery is the next step, especially if your cataract is starting to interfere with day-to-day life.

Cataract surgery is safe and effective

It’s very important, however, to bear two factors in mind. First, delaying surgery will not cause any long-term damage to your eye. And second, cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective operations there is – according to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, fewer than 2 per cent of patients have any serious, unforeseen complications.

What happens during cataract surgery?

During the operation itself, the natural lens is removed and most often replaced with an artificial ‘intraocular’ lens or IOL. You will not see or feel the new lens. In some rare cases, patients with another eye disease or problems cannot have an IOL; they might instead be offered soft contact lenses or high-magnification spectacles.

What to expect after cataract surgery 

Recovery from the operation is usually rapid. While complications such as retinal detachment are rare, they are serious and need to be referred immediately to an eye-care professional. However, healing is usually complete within eight weeks. Vision might be somewhat blurred for some time following surgery, but one of the factors than can surprise patients the most is the brightness of the colours they experience. Typically, however, they become used to their more colourful world in a matter of months.

If you’re worried that you might be starting to suffer from cataracts, or if you simply want to have your eyes examined by a professional, contact us to arrange an appointment with a BMI ophthalmologist.

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