​A cataract is a very common condition which causes cloudiness in the lens of your eye which reduces your ability to see. Cataracts get worse over time and with age, so your vision progressively deteriorates. Cataracts can be successfully treated with surgery, which replaces your cloudy lens with a clear new artificial one.

The information here relates to cataracts in adults. Some children can develop cataracts (congenital cataracts); these are usually dealt with in a different way to cataracts in adults.

How your eye works

Your eye is shaped like a round ball, with clear tissue at the front called the cornea. Light entering your eye through the cornea is focused by the lens onto the retina. The cornea does most of the work, while the lens ‘fine-tunes’ the focus.

The shape of your lens constantly changes to help you see things clearly in the distance and close up; this is called ‘accommodation of vision’. As you get older, your lens becomes less able to change its shape to focus properly. When this happens, most people can see clearly in the distance, but they aren’t as good at seeing things close up.

The lens of your eye can also be affected by a cataract. The lens is normally clear so that light passes directly through and focuses on your retina. The lens is clear because of the way its cells are arranged. When a cataract develops, it changes the way these cells are arranged, causing the lens to become cloudy instead of clear. This results in less light passing through the lens and a reduction in the quality of your vision.

Cataracts can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • getting older (age-related cataracts).
  • over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (from sunlight, tanning treatments, or sunlamps)
  • long-term steroid medication
  • a family history of cataracts
  • diabetes (blood sugar levels above a safe range can cause changes that result in cataracts)
  • eye disease (including retinitis pigmentosa, retinal detachment, glaucoma or long-term uveitis)
  • radiation treatments or x-rays to the head
  • eye injury
  • following a vitrectomy (having the vitreous gel removed from their eye

Cataracts usually develop slowly and although symptoms vary from patient to patient, there are common symptoms that most people will experience.

Most patients eventually develop a cataract in both eyes, but not necessarily at the same time. When a cataract starts to develop, you may begin to feel your sight isn't quite right. If you wear glasses, the lenses may seem dirty, even when they're clean. Gradually, you’ll find your sight becoming cloudier, making it harder to see.

For many people, bright lights appear to glare, and car headlights become more dazzling than they used to be. There may also be a slight change in your colour vision, with objects appearing more yellow than before. Other colours may also seem to have changed, and colours may look different when looked at with one eye as opposed to both eyes.

If a cataract is ignored, your sight will become increasingly cloudy, resulting in a deterioration of your vision. Most people choose to have their cataracts removed when the change in their vision starts to impact on everyday life.

Symptoms can include:

  • cloudy vision, slowly deteriorating
  • bright lights glare more
  • colour vision changes

Your doctor or optometrist (optician) should be able to diagnose a cataract after discussing your symptoms and a short examination. Depending on the severity of the cataract, and whether it is affecting your quality of life, you may be referred for cataract treatment.

Cataract surgery

Cataract surgery is a small operation used to treat eye cataracts, where cloudiness within the lens of the eye causes blurred or misty vision.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.