Cataracts (a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye) is the leading cause of vision loss in adults over the age of 55. In fact, half of people over the age of 65 will experience some form of change in their lens, even if they don't experience symptoms. As the risk of developing a cataract increases with age, most of us will develop a cataract in time.
Know your risk
If you're a smoker, have a family history of cataracts, or have been overexposed to bright sunlight or taken steroid medication over a long period, you're at increased risk. Cataracts can also be linked to physical trauma or health issues, such as diabetes. You can help lower your risk by not smoking and wearing sunglasses when out in bright sunshine - invest in a pair with a CE mark, UV400 label or statement that they offer 100% UV protection.
Early warning signs
A clouding of the lens can occur in one or both eyes. As the cataract develops, the clouding becomes bigger and more dense, causing the image to become less sharp and limiting your vision. Some people have problems with glare and are easily dazzled by vehicle headlights and sunshine. Others notice that colours appear faded, have difficulties seeing in dim or bright light, and find that reading and watching television is more difficult. If you should experience any of these symptoms, visit your optician straight away. Although such symptoms can indicate a cataract, they can also be a sign of other eye conditions, so it's best to get checked out.
Your optician should be able to confirm whether you have a cataract and how much of your vision is affected. If the cataract isn't causing you many problems and your vision is only slightly affected, changing the prescription of your glasses may be all that's required.
Your will need to have regular eye tests to check the progress of the cataract. If you're aged 70 or over, you should have an eye test at least once every year – to check the health of your eye as well as your vision. Those under the age of 70 should have an eye test every two years.
If you have clouded, blurred or dimmed vision that's causing practical difficulties (for example, problems with glare or recognising people's faces) you may need to consider surgery. In this case, the optician may refer you to an eye specialist, known as a consultant ophthalmologist, at the hospital.
Cataracts surgery - where the surgeon removes the eye's clouded natural lens and replaces it with an artificial lens - is one of the most common surgical procedures for adults. Each year, around 200,000 people undergo cataract surgery in Britain. If you have short or long sight, the surgeon may be able to correct for this at the same time.
The operation is usually performed under local anaesthetic and can take as little as 15 minutes.
Recovery after surgery
Immediately after the surgery, you may experience some blurring and minor discomfort. Your vision should gradually get better and you should notice an improvement 10-14 days after the operation.
Be sure to use the eye drops as the doctor or nurse instructs and avoid doing swimming or doing anything too strenuous while recovering. A few weeks after surgery you'll need to attend a follow-up appointment to check how it's healing.
Three products designed to help the poor-sighted:
Talking microwave oven, £270
Lebara Alcatel 2004 Big Button Mobile - Includes £10 Airtime - £24.99
Opticom Big Button Corded Desk Telephone, £10.99