Cataracts are a natural part of getting older. Fortunately, due to the accessibility of highly skilled cataract surgery in Australia, instances of significant vision loss from a cataract occur infrequently. Early cataracts often do not cause any detectable cataract symptoms with many people continuing their usual activities with no difficulties. In some situations, even moderately advanced cataracts cause such mild cataract symptoms that an individual may be unaware they are developing a cataract.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is an opacity of the lens inside the eye. This lens sits behind the coloured iris within the eyeball. At birth, a normal lens is clear and transparent, allowing light to pass through easily to reach the retina and form vision. As we age, this lens gradually loses its transparency, causing minute degrees of vision loss, and eventually, we consider this a cataract. The only way to definitively treat a cataract is through cataract surgery. In most cases, cataract surgery is able to successfully and entirely reverse the vision loss caused by a cataract.
Cataract symptoms can vary depending on several factors, such as how advanced the cataract is and its location within the lens. More central cataract opacities in the lens will cause more noticeable vision loss compared to an opacity towards the edge of the lens.
Because cataracts typically develop so slowly, many people don’t realise the subtle changes to their vision are due to a cataract but may instead dismiss them as just part of ageing. While cataracts are indeed a natural part of ageing, unlike other eye diseases of older age, such as age-related macular degeneration, any vision deterioration from a cataract can be successfully restored with cataract surgery.
The symptoms of a cataract can also overlap with other eye diseases, some of which may result in permanent vision defects if not managed appropriately. If you are experiencing any of the cataract symptoms discussed below it’s important not to make a self-diagnosis of cataract. Instead, seek a proper eye examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist who will be able to advise you whether cataract surgery is appropriate for you.
Here are some of the characteristic symptoms of a cataract.
● Deteriorating clarity of vision. Different patients may describe the changes to their vision in different ways. Common terms include hazy, foggy, or cloudy vision. Some people also describe the sensation of looking through a filmy, dirty window.
● Impaired contrast sensitivity. Because the opacity of the cataract blocks some of the light entering the eye, you may experience difficulties seeing in low contrast conditions. You may find this becomes apparent in situations such as driving at dusk or if it’s particularly overcast or raining. Reading the fine print in dim lighting may not be as easy as it once was, or if you are trying to read coloured text against a coloured background.
● Increased glare sensitivity. Though we all experience discomfort to bright glare to some degree, a progressing cataract can increase this sensitivity. Examples of situations where you might find this apparent include when faced with oncoming car headlights while driving at night or when looking at street lights. Backlit signs or LED signs can also become quite uncomfortable to view when a cataract is present.
● Frequent prescription updates. Certain types of cataract can cause a change to the refractive index of the lens. The refractive index refers to the degree that light bends, or refracts, through the lens structure. One type of age-related cataract known as nuclear sclerosis is associated with a myopic shift, meaning that your eye becomes more short-sighted. For patients who used to need reading glasses for near viewing, this can be a welcome symptom! Conversely, another type of age-related cataract called anterior cortical cataract can cause a hyperopic shift, when the eye becomes more far-sighted.
It’s important to remember that a cataract is not typically associated with a red eye or pain. Cataracts are also known to develop slowly over time, though some types of cataract, such as those from trauma or steroid use, may progress faster than others.
When is it Time for Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is indicated once the cataract opacity has developed to the point where it is impeding your usual daily activities. This point will differ between different individuals and can depend on various factors, such as your work, hobbies, and tolerance for the changes to your vision. For example, an artist who requires accurate colour discrimination may be more bothered by a mild cataract compared to a retail worker.
In the early to moderate stages of a cataract, even if you feel that your vision is not as clear as it once was but are still comfortably achieving all the tasks you need to do, it may not be necessary to undergo cataract surgery immediately. There may be some situations where your optometrist or ophthalmologist may encourage you to have cataract surgery sooner rather than later. This may be because you are approaching the limit of the vision requirements to hold a driver’s licence, or if there is a risk posed to the overall health of your eye from the growing cataract, such as in some cases of glaucoma.
Call us on (03) 9070 5753 today for a consultation.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second
opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.