What are cataracts?

Cataracts are cloudy areas that form in the lens of the eye. They are not a growth on the eye but they can result in poor vision because they interfere with the light that enters the eye. Normally, the lens is clear and helps focus light on the retina (the light-sensitive part of the eye). However, as the lens becomes cloudy it causes vision to blur.

What causes cataracts?

Most cataracts are a result of ageing. As a person ages, the protein in their lenses may change and become ‘cloudy’. This is the start of a cataract. Other causes may include:

  • long-term exposure to ultraviolet light
  • injury
  • smoking
  • certain diseases, like diabetes
  • in some rare cases, exposure to toxic materials and radiation.

Occasionally cataracts may be present at birth if the baby’s mother had rubella during pregnancy, or due to genetic defects.

What are the signs of cataracts?

Cataracts usually develop slowly without any pain or noticeable change in vision. Once you have a cataract the most common symptoms include:

  • blurred or hazy vision
  • spots before the eyes
  • double vision
  • an increased sensitivity to glare

How are cataracts detected?

An optometrist can examine your eyes to see if there are any changes in the lens of the eye. Their specialised equipment enables them to see changes in the lens that may lead to cataracts several years before any symptoms appear.

How common are cataracts?

Cataracts are more common in people who are older than 65 but they can affect people in their 40s and 50s.

Can cataracts be prevented?

There is no proven method of preventing cataracts. Scientists believe that long-term exposure to ultraviolet light may induce cataracts, so a brimmed hat and protective sunglasses should be worn in sunlight to minimise exposure to ultraviolet light.

Do cataracts get worse?

Generally, cataracts get worse with time. The clouded areas become larger and denser, making the vision blurrier. The time taken for this to happen varies from a few months to many years.

Can cataracts affect both eyes?

Cataracts often affect both eyes but usually develop at different rates in each eye

Can cataracts cause blindness?

If untreated, cataracts can cause blindness. However, blindness can be prevented if the cataracts are detected early and, if necessary, removed surgically. Your optometrist will refer you to an eye specialist if they consider that you need medical treatment for your cataracts.

Can cataracts be removed?

An ophthalmologist can remove cataracts. They are medical doctors who specialise in eye surgery. Your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist if necessary.

Is it a major operation to have cataracts removed?

Cataract surgery is now a relatively minor procedure. Often it is performed under a local anaesthetic. Depending on the patient, the surgery may be performed on an outpatient basis. This means that the patient attends a hospital or clinic for the surgery and is able to go home the same day. .

When should I have a cataract operation?

This varies with each person. Usually cataract surgery is performed when the quality of vision interferes with daily life. Your optometrist will assist you in making this decision.

Cataract surgery treatment options

Not all cataract surgery is the same. During surgery the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. When your cloudy lens is removed there are various treatment options available to you so you may become independent of glasses for some activities.

What are the charges for cataract surgery?

There are medical and hospital/day surgery charges that apply to cataract surgery. The fees charged by specialists and operating theatres vary. Check with your specialist to find out what these charges are, and find out what benefits are payable by Medicare and HCF.

Visit, call or make an appointment on-line with one of our centres if you are concerned about the health of your eyes or would like to book an appointment for an eye examination.