Cataracts tend to be very slow-growing, which can make it difficult to notice any changes to your sight. However, cataracts are the most common eye disease around the globe, making cataract surgery the most commonly performed procedure. Though it’s not critical to rush into eye surgery as soon as you’ve been diagnosed, it can help you to be prepared by being able to recognise the signs of a cataract.
What are the Signs of a Cataract?
The signs of a cataract can be difficult to identify as they’re not specific to cataracts. Though you may suspect you’re developing a cataract, diagnosis can only be confirmed with an examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. After diagnosis, you may then wish to discuss whether cataract surgery is the right option at this time.
In the early stages of cataract development, you’re not likely to notice anything at all. Even when a cataract has progressed to a moderate stage, many people are unaware of changes to their sight. However, depending on how attuned you are to changes in your sight, the visual requirements of your work or hobbies, and the type of cataract, you may eventually begin to realise your vision is not what it used to be.
Here are the signs of a cataract.
Decrease in visual clarity
As the cataract grows, it reduces the transparency of the lens inside the eye. This means that less light from the environment is able to pass through the lens to the retina. Because of this, you may find your sight feels unclear. Some people describe the sensation as filmy, cloudy, or foggy. A popular analogy for vision through a cataract is like looking through a dirty window or smudged spectacle lenses. In real-world terms, this may mean you need to drive closer to a street sign before being able to read it or need to increase the font size on your phone.
One particular type of cataract, known as a posterior subcapsular cataract, can induce increased glare sensitivity, also known as photophobia. This is because the opacity of the cataract scatters light as it passes through the lens. Another type of cataract called anterior cortical cataract can also be associated with photophobia for the same reason. You may find yourself particularly blinded at night when driving on the road and faced with oncoming car headlights or street lights. Backlit or LED signage can also be quite uncomfortable to view. If you find your glare sensitivity to be debilitating, even though your sight is generally quite sharp for all other activities, you may decide that cataract surgery is necessary.
More difficulty in low lighting conditions
Ever tried to read a menu in a dimly lit restaurant and found you need to bring out the torch on your phone? The haze developing in your lens from a cataract affects your contrast sensitivity. Contrast sensitivity is the ability to discern patterns and edges from a background. To an extent, increasing the lighting helps to improve the contrast. For example, navigating an uneven sidewalk at dusk is much harder compared to in bright sunlight, where every crack or dip in the pavement is easily visible. You may also find that to read the newspaper comfortably, you now need to bring the paper to the window for natural lighting. Another example is feeling less comfortable when driving in poor visibility conditions on the road, such as in heavy rain or fog.
The colours appear faded
One type of cataract known as nuclear sclerosis grows as a yellow-brownish haze in the centre of the lens. This discolouration of the lens filters out certain wavelengths of light as you view objects, which can affect your colour perception. Very few people notice this particular sign of a cataract. However, the difference is more marked after undergoing cataract surgery. Soon after this sight-restoring eye surgery, many people realise how much more vibrant and brighter colours appear.
Your prescription changes frequently
The progression of a cataract can cause your contact lens or glasses prescription to shift. You may find your prescription becoming more short-sighted (myopic) or long-sighted (hyperopic). You may even find your astigmatism changing. This shift in your script can sometimes work in your favour, at least at the beginning of your cataract development. For example, if you experience a myopic shift in your script and that eye becomes more short-sighted, you may find you can read without your glasses. Conversely, if you began as short-sighted but the cataract causes a hyperopic shift, you may find your far sight improves without your glasses. However, the benefits of this are often outweighed by the inconvenience of often needing to update your glasses, which can become expensive. Some people may opt to undergo cataract surgery to eliminate the need for constant updating of their glasses.
Eye surgery, specifically cataract surgery, is the only way to definitively treat a cataract. The timing of cataract surgery is largely up to you and how you feel your sight and daily activities are being impacted by cataracts. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can provide guidance on the best timing and other considerations for cataract eye surgery.
Once you decide to undergo cataract surgery, you have the option of having your eye surgery via either the private or public system. Your eye care professional can discuss with you the pros and cons of each one.
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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.