As we age, our sight tends to deteriorate. Cataracts are one of the main reasons vision becomes blurry in older people. A cataract occurs when the proteins inside the lens mass together, causing cloudiness in the lens. Cataracts can also develop for other reasons — such as injury or other eye surgery.
In the UK, age-related cataracts affect around half of people over 65. By age 80, most people either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery
How do I know I have a cataract?
Book an appointment with an optometrist if you notice:
- Things starting to appear blurred or misty
- Lights seeming too harsh or bright
- Requiring stronger light to read or do close work
- Colours becoming faded to your vision
Are all cataracts the same?
There are three main types of cataracts, which cause problems for different parts of the lens:
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts – these starts as small patches that usually form near the back of the lens, right in the path of light. They reduces your vision in bright light and affects reading, and causes glare or halos around lights at night
- Nuclear cataracts in the centre of the lens – this type of cataract is characterised by an excessive amount of yellowing and light scattering affecting the centre of the lens. This affects distance vision, so activities such as driving and reading at distance are affected
- Cortical cataracts - these develops in the edges of the lens and then make their way towards the middle. Opaque, white, wedge-like streaks work their way toward the centre like spokes on a wheel.
Can cataract symptoms improve?
Initially, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may help mitigate the cataracts effect on the sight.
However, in the longterm, surgery is the only treatment that's proven to be effective for cataracts, although in the case of nuclear cataracts vision sometimes appears to improve. This is called ‘second sight’. Unfortunately this is usually temporary.
Am I at risk for cataracts?
Those who are at heightened risk for cataracts include:
- People with pre-existing health issues, like diabetes
- Those with a family history of cataracts
- Those who consume a lot of alcohol
- People who have had had an eye injury, eye surgery, or radiation treatment on your upper body
- Those who spend a lot of time in the sun
What can I do to prevent cataracts?
To prevent cataracts from worsening, it is essential to prioritize regular eye check-ups with an optometrist. Routine eye examinations can help detect cataracts in their early stages, allowing for timely intervention. Protecting your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays by wearing sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays is crucial. A diet rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamins C and E, may also contribute to eye health and potentially slow the progression of cataracts. Quitting smoking and managing conditions like diabetes can further reduce the risk of cataract development. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, supports overall eye health. Consulting with an optometrist and following their recommendations for personalized eye care can play a pivotal role in preventing the exacerbation of cataracts and preserving optimal vision.
It may not be possible to avoid cataracts entirely, but you may be able to lower your chances of developing them, or stop them deteriorating by taking the following steps.
Sunshine – and Ultraviolet B rays in particular - can damage the proteins in your lens. So, wearing good quality sunglasses can be helpful when it comes to protecting your eyes.
Wearing protective sunglasses any time you’re outside during daylight, will help.
Make an appointment to see an eye doctor
Visiting your eye doctor (ophthalmologist) will help keep you informed of your cataract status.
The ophthalmologist can also screen for macular degeneration and glaucoma, so you can take necessary action when needed.
Keep blood sugar and blood pressure under control
Diabetes and high blood pressure can worsen cataracts.
If you have diabetes, it’s crucial to keep your blood sugar under control to limit any eye damage caused by a high glucose level.
Quit Smoking if You Smoke
Tobacco can cause cardiovascular issues, including problems in the blood vessels of your eyes.
Cut down on alcohol
Studies have shown drinking a lot, can lead to a heightened risk of cataracts.
Eat a healthy diet
Research indicates that eating foods high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E may help prevent cataracts.