Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in adults worldwide. Most people have cataracts to some degree by the time they are 90 years old. In most cases cataracts can be successfully treated and vision restored.
What are cataracts?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye or the surrounding fluid. It can occur in one or both eyes. Mostly older people develop cataracts, but younger people can also get cataracts and, in rare cases, babies are born with cataract.
Who is at risk of cataracts?
Most cataracts are related to ageing, but some people are more at risk of developing cataracts, including those who have:
- a family history
- diabetes, smoke or have used corticosteroid medications for long periods
- spent a lot of time in the sun without good eye protection
- had eye injuries
Cataracts can make your vision blurred or distorted, make you sensitive to glare, or give you the sense of seeing double. If you have cataracts, you may also have trouble reading, driving at night or seeing faces or other details clearly.
If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, or your vision isn’t what it used to be, it’s a good idea to see an optometrist. Cataracts can usually be diagnosed by an eye examination.
The optometrist will look at the appearance of your eye, look at your retina and check for short sightedness. They may examine your eye with a slit lamp, which shows the location and pattern of the cataract.
If there are concerns regarding cataracts, an optometrist or GP may refer you to an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye doctor) to consider further investigation and possibly surgery.
Glasses may help to improve vision in the early stages, but surgery is the only effective long-term treatment because cataracts get progressively worse in adults, although that may not be the case in some children.
Surgical treatment of cataracts is very safe. It usually involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. The procedure generally only requires a local anaesthetic.
Some medications used for prostate problems in men can cause problems in cataract surgery. If you are seeing an ophthalmologist about cataracts and take medications for prostate problems, make sure they are aware you are taking them.
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Last reviewed: September 2019