Tens of thousands of people around the world are treated with cataract surgery every day. A cataract is a haze or loss of transparency of the crystalline lens inside the eyeball. This results in less light being able to make it through to your retina, causing the image to become degraded and unclear. However, blurry vision is only one of the symptoms of a cataract, and in some cases, not even the first noticeable sign. So, how do you know if you have a cataract and what should you do if you suspect you have one?
How Do You Know if You Have a Cataract?: Symptoms to Look Out For
Fortunately, cataracts are considered benign, typically a normal and expected part of ageing. So if it takes a while to get into an eye care professional for diagnosis, or if you have to wait for cataract surgery, it’s unlikely to cause any harm.
However, as visually significant cataracts are treatable through cataract surgery, it can help to recognise that your symptoms are caused by a cataract. These are some common symptoms of a cataract.
- Unclear vision. At some point, you may realise your sight isn’t as sharp as it once was. However, age-related cataracts tend to progress very slowly, making it difficult to discern such minute changes to your vision over an extended period of time. Some people also don’t identify their vision as blurry or unclear at all. Instead, they may describe their sight as foggy, cloudy, hazy, or like constantly looking through a dirty window or smudged glasses.
- Altered colour vision. A specific type of age-related cataract known as nuclear sclerosis causes a browning/yellowing of the crystalline lens. This results in certain wavelengths of light being filtered out, which changes your colour perception. Similar to the deterioration of your visual clarity, not everyone will notice this change as it happens very slowly and can be difficult to discern.
- Increased glare sensitivity. The opacities of a cataract can cause light to scatter as it enters the eye, which we perceive as glare. You may find that you no longer feel comfortable driving at night as oncoming headlights or street lamps feel too bright. During the day you may feel more dependent on your sunglasses whenever you go outdoors, or perhaps you feel the illumination from your electronic devices is getting uncomfortable.
- Reduced contrast sensitivity. Contrast sensitivity refers to our ability to discern detail against a background; for example, words against a page. As a cataract develops and impacts your contrast sensitivity, you may find tasks like reading coloured text against a coloured background becoming more difficult. People with cataracts may also feel uncomfortable driving in low contrast conditions, such as dusk or dawn, or heavy rain.
- Frequent changes to your contact lens or spectacle prescription. Although a prescription may change naturally over the course of time, a developing cataract has the potential to shift your eye’s power more rapidly than considered typical. Depending on the type of cataract, your prescription may become either more long-sighted (hyperopic) or short-sighted (myopic), or may even alter your astigmatism.
A cataract is never associated with pain or redness of the eye, nor with a sudden loss of vision. Some types of cataracts may develop more rapidly than others, but they are never responsible for waking up with abrupt vision loss. If you experience pain, redness, or sudden vision loss, even in conjunction with the previously mentioned symptoms of a cataract, you should visit your eye care professional or your local hospital emergency department immediately.
How Do You Know if You Have Eye Cataract?: Diagnosis with an Eyecare Medical Professional
The most definitive way of answering “how do you know if you have a cataract?” is to simply attend for an eye test with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
While a general practitioner is likely to suspect you have a cataract based on your reported symptoms, they do not typically have access to the necessary equipment to diagnose a cataract.
At the eye care clinic, the optometrist or ophthalmologist will ask you to read letters on a chart to determine your visual acuity. If your contrast sensitivity needs to be tested, they may also use a chart with letters of increasing faintness. The clinician will have a look at the cataract directly using a slit lamp, which is a piece of equipment with a microscope and light assembly.
It’s unnecessary to undergo cataract surgery for cataracts that are early or not considered visually significant. Instead, you’ll be monitored at regular intervals to follow your cataracts as they progress. Once it’s determined that your cataracts are causing you problems, you will be offered cataract surgery.
Cataract Surgery: Treatment to Improve Eye Health
Cataract surgery is typically a quick, uncomplicated day procedure. In Australia, you have the choice of going through the public system or the private system. While the private system offers you more options, such as the type of lens implant, which surgeon performs your operation, and has shorter waiting times, you may incur significant out-of-pocket costs, especially if you don’t have private health insurance. Prior to seeing an eye specialist, you may want to discuss your options for surgery with your local optometrist.
Call us now on (03) 9070 5753 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.