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What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of part of your eye called the lens. Your vision becomes blurred because the cataract is like frosted glass, interfering with your sight.

What is the function of the lens?

The lens is a clear tissue found behind the iris, the coloured part of the eye. The lens helps to focus light on the back of the eye - the retina - forming an image.

What causes a cataract?

Cataracts can form at any age. Most develop as we get older, many people over 60 have some cataract. Long term exposure to ultra violet light can be a factor. In younger people cataracts can result from conditions such as diabetes, certain medications and other longstanding eye problems.

Preventing cataracts
Although cataracts occur naturally as part of the ageing process you can reduce your risk of developing cataracts by not smoking and protecting your eyes from the damaging effects of UV. Modern IOL's are now designed to help block out harmful blue UV light.

How does cataract affect your sight?

This is very common. You may notice that your sight has become blurred or misty, or that your glasses appear dirty or scratched.
You may be dazzled by lights, such as car headlamps, and sunlight. This can sometimes be alleviated by having spectacles or sunspectacles with a light tint and UV protection.
Your colour vision may become washed out or faded.

80% of all cataract surgery is performed on patients aged 70 and over. A straightforward operation to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial one is the only effective way to treat cataracts. However you may not require surgery if your daily routine remains unaffected Following an initial consultation your local optician can refer you for surgery. According to the National Cataract Survey 80% of all cataract surgery is performed on patients aged 70 years and over.

How is a cataract treated?

The procedure to remove the clouded lens and implant a small plastic intraocular lens (IOL) is generally carried out under local anaesthetic. Waiting times for cataract surgery have reduced significantly in recent times with the average wait in England just 69 days.

If your optometrist decides that you are an unsuitable candidate for surgery then he or she may prescribe special glasses to help minimise vision loss.

After surgery

After surgery you will be given anti-inflamatory eye drops and antibiotics to ensure that the eye does not get infected. You will normally be allowed home on the day of your operation and your sight should be restored within a day or two.

If you are having surgery on both eyes your ophthalmic surgeon will treat one eye and then wait a week or two before treating the other.

Read more information in this digital download available from the RNIB:

Understanding Cataracts - RNIB (PDF format)

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