A cataract is when part of the eye called the lens, which is normally clear, becomes cloudy and affects your vision. It tends to affect older people – up to one in three of those over 65 are affected by cataracts. There are other rarer types of cataracts such as congenital cataracts that develop from birth, and this is checked at your baby's 6 to 8 week screening with your doctor.
People with a cataract usually complain of blurred vision. As the condition progresses over years, vision can worse, colours look less vibrant, spots appear in their vision, halos appear around lights, lights seem too bright and they have difficulty seeing in poor light or at night. Pain isn’t usually a symptom.
Symptoms of a cataract usually develop slowly over a few years so people may not notice at first, but it will be picked up at a routine eye test.
There is no specific cause of cataracts, although the change of them occurring increases as people get older, if they smoke or drink excessive alcohol, if they have diabetes, use steroids for a long time or have a family history of a relative developing cataracts. Rarely, some people develop cataracts after an eye injury.
The treatment for cataracts is surgery and it is curative. The surgery takes less than an hour (sometimes less than 20 minutes!) and can be done through the NHS or privately. During the surgery, the lens that has become cloudy is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
You should see your optician or doctor if you have any changes in your vision or any of the other symptoms of cataracts. They will also check for glaucoma.
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. They will also ask you about your past medical history and any eye problems in your family. They will examine both your eyes and may refer you to a specialist eye doctor.
You may not be fit for work if you have vision changes, depending on the nature of your work and the severity of your visual impairment. It is best to discuss this with your doctor.
You do not have to tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) of cataracts, but you must meet the minimum visual standards for driving. You should maintain at 6 to 12 monthly eye tests, and your optician can advise whether you meet the standards required for driving.
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