Cataracts are very common – the main cause of impaired vision worldwide.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

  • Blurred, misty or cloudy vision
  • You may find it more difficult to see in dim or very bright light
  • Bright lights may be dazzling or uncomfortable to look at
  • Colours may look faded or less clear with a yellow or brown tinge
  • You may have double vision
  • You may see a haloes (circles of light) around bright lights, such as car headlights or street lights

Cataracts develop over many years and problems may at first be unnoticeable. They often develop in both eyes, although each eye may be affected differently.

Cataracts are not painful and don’t make your eyes red or irritated. You’ll usually have blurred, cloudy or misty vision, or you may have small spots or patches where your vision is less clear.

What are cataracts and what causes them?

Cataracts occur when cloudy patches develop in the clear lens inside your eyes, stopping light from reaching the back of the eye, and causing blurred or misty vision.

In most people, cataracts simply develop as they age. Several other factors may also increase your risk of developing cataracts, including:

  • A family history of cataracts
  • Smoking
  • Regularly drinking excessive alcohol
  • A poor diet lacking in vitamins
  • Lifelong exposure of your eyes to UV light
  • Taking steroid medication over a long time
  • Previous eye surgery or injury
  • Certain health conditions, such as diabetes

What is the treatment for cataracts?

When you have your eyes examined by your Specsavers optometrist, they will use a variety of instruments to look inside and check for cataracts.

If your cataracts are mild, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may be helpful for some time. However, most cataracts get worse over time (often many years) so it’s likely you will eventually need treatment.

The only treatment that is proven to be effective for cataracts is surgery. This will usually be recommended if your loss of vision has a significant effect on your daily activities, such as driving or reading.

If it is thought you have cataracts that are affecting your quality of life, you can be referred to an ophthalmologist or an ophthalmic surgeon, who can confirm the diagnosis and plan your treatment.

What does cataract surgery involve?

If an operation is suitable, it will be conducted at a hospital by an ophthalmologist, who will carry out assessments on your eyes and vision.

Most cataract operations are done using a local anaesthetic. You will be awake, but the ophthalmologist will make sure you do not feel the area around your eye. You will hear the ophthalmologist explaining what they are doing, and you may see some vague movements around your eye.

The ophthalmologist will make a tiny cut in your eye to remove the cataract, and will normally insert a plastic replacement lens so that you can see clearly. This will usually take around 15-45 minutes.

You will not normally need stitches, but your eye will be covered to protect it from knocks after the operation. You will be allowed to go home the same day, but should have someone to go with you and to look after you for 24 hours after surgery. Do not drive.

Do cataracts only occur in one eye?

If you have had a cataract removed from one eye, it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye at some point in the future.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is a hugely successful procedure and the overwhelming majority of patients are happy with the results.

However, as with all surgery, there are risks involved and you should not have the operation unless you feel it is right for you.

Before you have surgery the risks will be discussed with you, and how they apply to your individual case. The time to have surgery may vary from person to person.

Can I choose not to have the operation?

If it is not interfering with your daily life it is safe to leave a cataract in your eye. It does not become more difficult to remove if you wait before having surgery, although you will not be able to see as well as the cataract worsens.

The cataract does not have to become ‘ripe’ for you to have the operation. Surgery can be done as soon as the cataract is interfering with your daily life.

To try to prevent cataracts, or to stop them getting worse, wear good quality sunglasses with UV protection and don’t smoke.