Every year over 300,000 cataract operations are performed in the UK, making the surgery the most common surgical procedure in Britain today. Although cataracts can affect people of any age, it is in later life that many of us will develop the condition. This guide will explore the essential facts about cataracts, helping you to get to grips with the optical condition.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts are a condition that cause vision to become cloudy. The condition affects the lens of the eye, which is located behind your pupil. When an individual develops cataracts, their lens, which is transparent in a healthy eye, becomes more opaque, limiting the amount of light which can reach the retina from the cornea and pupil. This results in increasingly poor, misty or cloudy vision.


Who can develop cataracts?

Anybody can develop cataracts at any point in their lives. Yet this is typically an age-related condition most common in those over 65. There are, however, many cases of younger people developing cataracts. Childhood cataracts are another, less common form of the condition.


What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Cataracts are very difficult to detect at the early stages of their development. This is because the condition worsens steadily over time, making it hard to notice initially. As the condition develops, you may find that you are increasingly suffering from cloudy, misty, or unclear patches in your vision.


Other symptoms may include vision problems in dim and low light, desaturated or unclear colours, difficulty looking at bright lights, a dazzling or halo effect around bright lights, double vision and a yellow or brown tinge to your vision.


What causes cataracts?

In many cases, cataracts are simply a symptom of ageing. However, there are some conditions and factors which may increase your risk of developing this vision problem. The link between diabetes and cataracts, for example, is strong and diabetes sufferers are more likely to develop cataracts earlier in life.


Trauma to the eye can also trigger the condition, as can eye surgery and certain medications such as steroids. If you are already suffering from an ocular problem such as myopia (short-sightedness), retinitis, uveitis, glaucoma or pigmentosa, your likelihood of developing cataracts may also be heightened.


What are the treatments for cataracts?

Unfortunately there is no helpful prescription you can take to deal with cataracts – the only option is surgery. However, as the UK’s most common surgical procedure, cataract surgery is now very advanced and successful. During the surgery, the clouded lens is removed from the eye and replaced with an artificial version known as an IOL (Intra Ocular Lens).


The whole procedure takes no more than 30-40 minutes and can be performed under local anaesthetic to reduce health risks and minimise downtime. Typically performed on a “day patient” basis, you can receive your surgery and go home on the same day. For those with cataracts in both eyes (which is common) the surgeries are usually completed on two separate occasions, 3-5 weeks apart to give you time to heal.


Recovery from cataract surgery

Once a friend or family member has helped you get home from the hospital (you will not be allowed to drive), you’ll be able to go about your everyday life as usual. You may, however, want to rest for 1-2 days. Take extra care to protect your recovering eye from bacteria, dust, soap and water for 2-3 weeks.


It’s common to find that your vision is somewhat blurry for a few days following surgery, however, this will steadily improve and you should begin to find focussing and looking at bright lights much easier. Your vision should be clearer and colours will appear brighter and more distinct. You may require a change in prescription or need to begin wearing glasses.

For even more in depth information, Focus Clinic’s comprehensive guide offers extra insight and detail.


By james