Within the eye, there is a natural lens that focuses light, much like the glass lens in a camera. A cataract forms when the natural lens begins to cloud through the effects of ageing. By the 50s and 60s, there is more than a 50% chance that you will have some degree of cataract.
When mild, there will be few, if any, symptoms. But some degree of subtle visual loss can be measured, such as loss of contrast (the ability to perceive differences in shade between objects). This can cause difficulty in reading words if they are on a glossy page or, if the print is not dark enough. Glare or haloes/ rings around lights can also cause problems leading to loss in confidence driving at night or when driving into the sunrise or sunset.
As cataracts continue grow, there may be a noticeable reduction in vision when viewing both distant and near objects. Sometimes there is a shift to near sight, where viewing things up close become clearer but distant objects appear more blurry. Other times the opposite happens, distant objects become clearer but near objects less clear. Whatever happens, a continuing change is experienced and frequent changes in spectacle power are often recommended. As you would expect, a new pair of glasses will not always improve your vision back to its original level as glasses focus light but cannot improve vision through a cloudy cataract.
What can be done for cataracts?
When the changes described impact upon your lifestyle, removal of the cataract is the only permanent solution. There is no eye drop, laser or pill that will reverse cataracts. Fortunately, cataract surgery is quick, involves minimal down time and is highly successful.
Before cataracts are removed, a full examination and a number of tests are necessary to ensure no other condition is responsible for the worsening of vision. Accurate measurements are also taken to eliminate or minimise the chance that spectacles need to be worn after the surgery.
During surgery, the cataract is removed through a small incision in a minimally invasive procedure. Once removed, an artificial intraocular lens or IOL is implanted in its place. In almost all cases, no stitches are required. A light sedative is given usually through an arm vein. It is day procedure not requiring an overnight admission and you can expect to be in hospital for 2-4 hours. Recovery of vision can take a day to several days, in most cases. Eye drops are prescribed for 4 weeks.
If moderately severe cataracts are present in both eyes or, if you wear moderately powerful spectacle corrections, it may be reasonable to consider second eye surgery a short time after the first.
After cataract surgery, glasses are often no longer needed for distance vision but traditionally many people still need reading or near glasses or magnifiers. However, Multifocal IOLs are available which reduce and even eliminate the need for reading glasses. These can be very beneficial for people who do not wish to wear glasses anymore.