A cataract is an eye condition by which the focusing lens of the eye becomes opaque. Light's ability to reach the retina is reduced, which causes an impact on vision.
Cataract is an eye condition where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, resulting in light being unable to reach the retina which causes vision loss. The more dense the clouding, the more the impact on vision.
Causes of Cataracts
Cataracts are a common age-related eye condition and often develop slowly in most people aged over 60. This is due to the ageing process altering the eye's lens tissue.
Rarely, cataracts can show up in children at birth, and continue to develop as the child grows. Cataracts can also be caused by trauma, eye diseases and even medications.
Symptoms of Cataracts
The symptoms of cataracts can vary for each individual, due to the fact that it is dependent on the size of the cataract but also the location of where the clouding is occurring on the eye. Some people may notice little to no symptoms due to the fact that cataract may be on the outer lens of the eye. For others, symptoms may be more severe such as:
Clouding on eyes
Poor vision at night
Treatment options for cataracts vary for different individuals and depend on the severity of the cataracts. If a cataract is causing minimal visual impairment, then it can often be safely left untreated. For these cases, it is important to continuously monitor the cataract, and these early stages and symptoms of cataracts can be managed through the use of prescription glasses.
However, once the cataracts progress, it may be necessary to perform surgery to remove the cataracts and restore vision.
Cataract surgery is a day surgery, performed under a local anaesthetic by an ophthalmologist in a major city. For our patients who live in Queenstown or Wanaka, this means travelling to Christchurch, Dunedin or Invercargill for surgery.
Some cases of cataract meet the strict criteria for a referral to the public health system for treatment. However, if the impact of the cataract on your vision is too frustrating to wait to meet this criteria, you can opt to have your cataract operation through the private health care system. If you have private health insurance, these companies will often cover a portion of the costs.
There are a wide range of 'bells and whistles' that you can opt for when having cataract surgery that can further improve your vision and reduce your dependency on glasses after surgery. To speak to one of our optometrists about your options, book an appointment here.
Cataract surgery is a common treatment option which involves the cataract being removed from the eye and being replaced with a clear plastic lens.
The artificial plastic lens significantly improves vision of the eye affected by the cataract. The replacement lens lasts a lifetime and the cataract is unable to grow back.
When cataracts are the result of the natural aging process, there is no prevention. However, there are ways to ensure good eye health which can slow down the development of eye diseases such as cataracts.
At OCULA, we believe in prevention as a first line of defence which is why we recommend routine eye examinations every 2 years, to ensure that you are on top of your eye health.
If you have a family history of cataracts or other eye diseases, ensure you see an optometrists annually, to catch any developments in the early stages.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I have a cataract? It is not possible to see a cataract in your eye when you look in the mirror. And because a number of different vision conditions and eye diseases can affect vision, you can't assume that any changes to your vision are caused by a cataract. Optometrists diagnose cataracts during a comprehensive eye examination, and can pick up the earliest stages of a cataract - sometimes long before you are even aware of the changes!
Can you go blind from cataracts? If left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. However, as cataract treatment is readily accessible in New Zealand, this is rare in our country. In developing nations, cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness simply due to lack of access to medical care. As soon as a cataract is removed, vision is restored, and so the blindness can often be resolved if treated in time.
When is the right time to have surgery for cataracts? The timing for cataract surgery is different for everyone, and depends on a number of factors. Some factors include how much your vision is affected by the cataracts, your lifestyle and/or work vision demands, your general health and whether you will have your surgery performed through the public or the private health care system. Your optometrist can discuss your cases with you, and the options available to you, helping you make informed decisions.
Can cataracts come back after I’ve had surgery? No, once the cataract is removed, it is replaced with an artificial lens, which combats any development of cataracts.
I thought cataracts were a growth that grew over the eye - is this not true? No, cataracts are not a growth. Rather, the proteins of the clear lens inside the eye turn opaque in a similar process to the white of an egg changing with heat. The opacity restricts light passing through the eye, and hence decreases vision.
Do I have to have surgery if I have mild cataracts? Not necessarily. Your optometrist can monitor your cataracts and discuss with you the most appropriate treatment type and timing for your case.
How long do cataracts take to progress? Generally, aged-related cataracts progress over a number of years, often starting to form at about 60 years old and gradually worsening with time.
If you think you might be suffering from cataracts, or any other vision problems, book an appointment with one of our specialised optometrists.