What are Cataracts?

31 January 2024

You may have just been told you have cataracts, but what are they?

There is a very common misconception that a cataract is a growth across the front of the eye - like a skin that can be peeled off. That's not a cataract at all. (You can get a growth across the font of the eye from UV damage called a pterygium, and yes that's a classic silent p and definitely not a cataract).

We all have a little lens inside our eyes. It sits just behind the pupil (the black hole in the middle of the iris) and it's job is to help focus light onto the back of the eye from different distances away. With time the lens is going to become cloudy. It's constantly absorbing UV to stop it damaging the cells at the back of your eye that do your sharp vision.

A cataract is the clouding of this lens inside your eye. 

There are a few different types of cataracts, mainly based on the position of the clouding, for example common cataracts are central clouding known as cortical cataract. You can also get cataracts that grow from the outer edges of the lens like spokes of a wheel. Where the cataract is will have different effects on the vision. For example a spoke like peripheral cataract isn't going to have that much effect on your vision to start with as it leaves your central vision clear. A central cataract is going to cause more noticeable vision problems, more cloudy and blurred vision.

All cataracts are eventually going to blur the vision.

Cataracts tend to grow very slowly so the vision changes can be very subtle at first. You may notice that you need more light be be able to read (this is because you need more light to get through the cataract to see). But, if you have too much light it also causes problems - too much light will be scattered by the cataract also causing blur. You need to find the right balance.

Quite often central cataracts will make the eye go more short sighted, so as the cataract worsens your distance vision becomes more blurred, (or strangely clearer if you are long sighted). This can usually be corrected with stronger glasses but there comes a time when changing the glasses has no helpful effect.

This is when the cataracts are ready to be removed. 

The surgical teams who do the cataract operations are so good that they make it seem easy. Amazingly most cataract operations only take about 15 minutes. 

They remove the cataract and pop in a small implant lens. They will try to make it so that you don't need distance glasses after the operation but this isn't guaranteed. People are very often amazed by the results - especially in terms of how bright colours are. If you think about it the lens has been clouding slowly for many years so colours and everything has slowly been dulling, then you suddenly have that cloudiness removed and wow - sudden bright colours again.

Hopefully this has helped you understand a bit more about what a cataract is and that it's nothing to be worried about. Best advice is to protect your eyes from UV and try to delay or slow down their progression.


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