A cataract is a condition which causes clouding of lens in the eye resulting in blurry vision. The lens is situated behind the iris, the dark portion of the eye, and is not visible. When a cataract occurs, the lens becomes cloudy and is seen as a white cloudy ball in the centre of the iris. The lens is made up of mostly water and proteins. These specific proteins provide its transparent structure. Any structural change in these proteins can alter the clarity of the lens and negatively impact vision.
There are three types of cataracts classified according to their location in the eye.
- Nuclear cataract is when the cloudiness is present in the centre of the lens.
- With cortical cataract, the cloudiness is seen in the outer peripheral region or cortical region of the lens.
- Subcapsular cataract occurs at the back of the lens capsule or subcapsular region. This type develops quicker and can appear more suddenly than the nuclear and cortical cataract.
Cataracts are also classified according to the cause, either as age related cataract, congenital cataract, secondary cataract or traumatic cataract.
A cataract can occur due to many reasons.
- Age: As people age, changes can occur in the structure of the lens protein leading to cataract.
- Congenital: Cataract can occur in newborns as inherited disorder, as an isolated lens development defect, or can develop as part of intrauterine infection during pregnancy.
- Secondary causes: Cataract can form as a complication of other diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes. Prolonged use of corticosteroid inhalers, steroid tablets and eye drops increases the risk of cataract.
- Trauma: Certain injuries may result in formation of a cataract. Cataract may also develop years after the injury.
Other causes include excessive exposure of the eyes to UV rays, X-rays and other radiation during radiotherapy.
Cataracts usually develop very slowly and are not associated with any pain or redness of the eye. Your vision gradually becomes blurred as if you are looking through the dirty lens of a camera. Some patients may see a halo around bright lights. Others find the glare from the sun and head lights of approaching cars at night annoying. Some patients present with double vision in one of the eyes and the colours appear dull or muted. In others, frequent prescription changes for glasses or contact lens may become necessary.
To assess the impact of cataract on your vision your doctor will perform a Visual Acuity Test where the patient reads an eye chart from particular distance with one eye at a time. The doctor then examines the cornea, iris, and lens individually using an intense ray of light from a slit lamp to detect any abnormalities. For the retinal exam, eye drops are added to dilate the eye and the retina is examined for any abnormalities using an ophthalmoscope.
Surgery is the only treatment for cataract and is recommended based on the severity of the disease and the impact on the daily activities of the patient. The patient usually makes the decision to have surgery when the symptoms negatively impact their lifestyle.
Surgery is performed on one eye at a time with a few weeks gap usually in between the two operations. Cataract surgery is done on an outpatient basis where the patient can go home the same day. The eye and area around the eye is numbed using local anaesthesia. The cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear plastic lens in the same lens capsule as the natural lens.
There are various options as to which lens is used for your surgery including standard monofocal lenses, toric lenses as well as multifocal lenses. The doctors at The Centre for Eyes will help guide your decision and suggest the best option for your particular circumstance.
Following surgery your doctor will prescribe eye drops to prevent infection and inflammation. A follow up visit is scheduled to monitor healing and to check for any complications from surgery.