A cataract is when the crystalline lens inside your eye becomes opaque, or cloudy and no longer transparent. This can occur at birth (congenital cataract) or following an accident (traumatic cataract).
The most common type of cataract forms just as part of the normal ageing process and is mainly due to the accumulation of UV light exposure over the whole of your life.
Proteins gather together inside the lens and once enough of them ‘clump’ together they will begin to make your vision less clear or a bit hazy. In the early stages your optometrist may refer to these as ‘lens opacities’ and will simply note them and monitor their progress with subsequent eye examinations.
As this process progresses, more and more of the lens area is affected. The degree and position of the unclear area will have an effect on how severe your vision is affected. If they are forming at the outer edge they will be more troublesome than if they form more centrally. The quality of your vision will progressively deteriorate as the cataract develops causing a hazy vision, like looking through a fog. Bright light will be more difficult to cope with, just like putting headlights on in the fog makes things worse.
Once your optometrist determines the cataract(s) is detrimentally effecting your vision and your lifestyle, they will refer you for cataract surgery. This is normally done as a day patient and is considered a fairly routine operation these day. However, it is a delicate and very precise procedure often leaving you without the need to wear spectacles for long distance and only needing spectacles for close-up tasks such as reading or using your mobile phone.
The operation involves the removal of the cloudy lens and replacing it with a transparent, clear man-made lens (Intra Ocular Lens, IOL) The lens is removed through a very thin tube in a small incision into the eye. The lens is then broken up into very small pieces and is ‘vacuumed’ out through the tube. The very tiny IOL lens is folded up and injected into position and then very carefully unfolded into position where the original lens was.
If there are no other defects with the back or your eyes (retina) then your vision will be restored again as you are seeing once more though a clear transparent lens. Colours will suddenly appear much more vivid and you will see like you did when you were younger.
You can avoid having cataracts at too early an age by protecting your eyes from exposure to UV light. Just as you protect your skin from ageing and burning effects from sunlight and UV radiation with sun cream. Therefore you should protect your eyes too! Sunglasses are a very effective and simple way to do this. It's not just for high fashion that you see celebrities wearing huge sunglasses often with a wide brimmed hat!
They are protecting their most valuable assets – their eyes! As well as the delicate skin surrounding them and their youth!
As the UV exposure is cumulative over the whole of your life it is especially important for children to protect themselves as this is when they spend the most time outdoors. Your optometrist or dispensing optician will advise you on the best type of sunglasses for you and your children.
Protecting them at an early stage will help to keep their eyes younger and healthier for longer.