Lichfield Street Opticians in Wolverhampton

Caring for Wolverhampton’s eyes since 1863

01902 420348

Cataracts

A cataract is a partial or complete opacity of the natural crystalline lens inside the eye. The lens, which is normally clear to allow light through to the retina, will appear cloudy when a cataract is present. This reduces the amount of light entering the eye, resulting in reduced overall vision.

What Causes Cataracts?

Common causes of cataracts can include:

  • Normal ageing process
  • Smoking
  • Certain drug usage, such as steroids
  • Trauma / injury
  • Some medications, such as those that cause pupil dilation (for example, antidepressants)
  • Other medical conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis (very rare)
cataract in eye

The largest single cause of cataracts comes from exposure to radiation. This can be a risk when taking some medical treatments, such as having x-rays or chemotherapy. But the main cause of cataracts comes from exposure to the ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) contained in sunlight. When you are out in bright sunny weather, you may notice that the sunlight causes your exposed skin to tan. The same thing tends to occur with the crystalline lens inside your eye. The UV rays causes loose, unstable molecules to form in the tissue in and around your natural lens. These molecules, often called ‘free radicals’, change the tissue of the lens causing it to distort and cloud up. Now we are all aware that tanning is not permanent - because we shed and replace our skin cells on average every 26 days. But the lenses in our eyes do not shed cells or regenerate - they have to last us for our entire lives. Thus, the damage caused by UV rays is permanent and builds up over time.


cataract comparison - normal eye
cataract comparison - afflicted eye

Symptoms of Cataracts

There are a number of symptoms one may experienced with cataracts, including:

  • Blurred, hazy vision caused by the cloudiness diffusing the light entering the eye (see comparison left - the first image is a healthy eye, the right image is one afflicted with a cataract)
  • Sensitivity to light and glare - especially sunlight
  • Haloes around bright objects and lights
  • Difficulty with low light and night vision

Treatment for Cataracts

Onced formed, the treatment of cataracts begins with prescribed spectacles or contact lenses that focus the light into the eye before it passes the natural lens in cases where the cataract is either mild or in its early stages. As a rule, surgery is not usually performed until the cataract affects your vision to such a degree that glasses or contact lenses can no longer compensate for it. The decision for undertaking the surgery depends on whether you can see well enough to function in your day to day life. Cataracts usually develop slowly and as a rule we tend to monitor their progress on a yearly basis during annual eye tests. This way we can tell when it is time for you to undergo surgery, although if your vision deteriorates between these examinations then we will of course refer you to the Eye Infirmary via your GP so that you can get treatment..

cataract afflicted visionWhen you do have surgery, you will undergo a procedure called Phakoemulsification. This is a common surgery that does not need a general anaesthetic - local anaesthesia are usually used. High-frequency sound waves are used to break up your crystalline lens, which are then removed from your eye. An artificial lens is then implanted in its place. This lens will not be affected by the elements that cause cataracts and will last you for the rest of your life. In many cases where no other vision correction was required before the cataract developed, your vision may return to normal and glasses or contact lenses may no longer be needed.

As there are no cures as such for cataracts, and the eventual treatment is to remove the natural lens, it is recommended that you take as many steps as possible  to prevent them from forming in the first place. Preventative measures can include expanding your regular diet to include (free radical busting thing here) and using sunglasses whenever you go out in the day. You should consider having an anti-reflective coating on your glasses, as well as photo-chromic Transitions lenses that turn dark when exposed to sunlight. The best sunglasses to prevent cataracts are those with polarised lenses with an anti-reflective coating on the backs of the lenses.