It’s most likely that you know of at least one person who’s been diagnosed with cataracts or perhaps just had cataract surgery. If you’re over the age of 60, it’s quite possible that you yourself have at least an early cataract, even if the idea of cataract surgery is still a while away. However, if you haven’t been for an eye test in a while, how do you know whether you have a cataract or not? If you’ve been wondering what do cataracts look like and how they can be diagnosed, read on.
What are Cataracts?
Cataracts are an opacity or haziness of the lens inside the eye. The lens is located just behind the coloured iris. Because of their location and the necessity of the lens for vision, they can interfere with your sight, though the symptoms will vary from person to person.
The presence of a cataract is usually considered a normal age-related change, much like wrinkles on the skin. And because everyone ages, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed procedures in the developed world. In some cases, cataracts can also be caused by other factors, such as certain medications or physical trauma to the eye. It may also be associated with certain diseases, including diabetes.
What Do Cataracts Look Like?
For those wondering what do cataracts look like in the mirror, the answer is not much. It is almost impossible to diagnose your own cataract simply by looking in the mirror, unless you have particularly large pupils and the lighting is just right. Occasionally you may be able to catch a glimpse of a cataract in another person if you’re looking at the right angle – it appears like a whitish glint in the pupil.
In most cases, self-diagnosing a cataract will come from its common symptoms. What do cataracts look like for your sight? Symptoms of a cataract can include:
- A hazy, cloudy, filmy quality to your vision. The location of the cataract in the lens of the eye will typically lead to some sort of deterioration of the clarity of your sight. This may be described in different ways by different people, and may not always be identified as blurry but rather filmy. Some people may describe the sensation of looking through a perpetually dirty window while others feel like their glasses can never be cleaned properly.
- Increased difficulty with glare and bright lights. Certain types of cataracts may be more likely to induce glare, such as posterior subcapsular cataract. The density and location of these opacities in the lens cause light to scatter as it passes through the lens, which the eye then perceives as glare. These issues can manifest themselves in situations such as discomfort on the road in the face of oncoming car headlights.
- Increased need for better lighting for reading. Although everyone’s near vision deteriorates with age in a process known as presbyopia, the presence of a cataract can further hinder your ability to read fine print. This is due to the impact of cataracts on your contrast sensitivity. You may find you need to bring the newspaper or medicine packaging to the window to be able to read the text in the bright natural light. Your altering contrast vision may also be apparent when you need to discern foreground details against a similarly-coloured background.
Diagnosis and Cataract Surgery
The diagnosis of a cataract is very straightforward with an eye test. Either an optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to tell you immediately if there is a cataract present and whether cataract surgery is indicated through a series of routine tests. Quite often people who have just attended for their regular eye test may be told they have an early cataract without even having noticed any symptoms.
One of the most basic tests an eyecare professional will perform to diagnose a cataract is slit lamp biomicroscopy. The slit lamp is a complex device comprised of a magnification system, an adjustable light, and a chin rest. By using the slit lamp, the ophthalmologist or optometrist will be able to directly view the cataract in your eye. Different types of cataracts will look different behind the slit lamp, ranging from a vague yellowish-brown haze in the centre of the lens to a dense white opacity on the back surface.
Another test commonly used when managing a cataract is visual acuity. This is typically performed by reading letters on a chart in decreasing size. The optometrist or ophthalmologist will note the smallest line of letters you’re able to achieve (even if you guessed a few or got some wrong). In some cases, you may be asked to read a contrast chart, which displays letters of decreasing size and also decreasing contrast.
When it comes to assessing a cataract and offering advice around cataract surgery, your eyecare professional will take into account several factors. Perhaps the most important of these is the impact your cataracts are having on your daily tasks. Someone who is content with their vision in spite of a moderate or advanced cataract, may be able to defer cataract surgery.
Conversely, someone else may have only a mild cataract but their visual symptoms interfere with their work, in which case, early cataract surgery may be indicated.
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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.