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Cataracts are cloudy patches on your eye that affect your vision – at first, your sight becomes cloudy and blurry, but over time, these patches get bigger, eventually causing blindness. 

What are cataracts?

A cataract is an eye condition that occurs when the lens in your eye becomes cloudy and your vision is affected. The lens is a small transparent disc inside your eye – it’s usually clear, but when you have cataracts, your sight becomes cloudy, misty and sometimes blurry. Over time, these cloudy patches will get bigger, eventually causing blindness.

Usually, cataracts appear in both eyes, but you can have cataracts in just one eye, or have more in one eye than the other.

Cataracts are caused when tissues in the lens break down and form clumps of protein that cloud small areas of the lens.

There are different types of cataracts, depending on which part of the lens is affected. The information on this page is relevant to all 3 types of cataracts because most cataracts are treated in the same way.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Cataracts often develop slowly, so you may not notice the symptoms for some time. They aren’t usually painful and don’t irritate your eyes. Your optician may detect cataracts during a routine eye test before you’ve noticed any changes to your vision. But as the cataracts get worse, you’ll start to notice changes to your sight. These changes include:

  • blurred, misty or cloudy vision – some people feel like their glasses need cleaning when they don’t
  • sensitivity to light – for example, bright sunlight may become uncomfortable to look at
  • finding that colours look faded, or things look a little more washed out than they should
  • finding it more difficult to see in low light
  • experiencing double vision.

Am I at risk of cataracts?

Usually, cataracts affect older people. It’s not entirely clear why we’re more likely to develop cataracts as we get older – some think it’s because the lens in the eye becomes thicker, less transparent and less flexible over time. But there are certain things that may increase your risk of cataracts, including:

  • diabetes
  • a family history of cataracts
  • smoking
  • eye injury or trauma (such as eye surgery)
  • medications (such as long-term use of steroids)
  • regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • eye conditions (such as glaucoma).

How will I be diagnosed with cataracts?

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, book an appointment with your optician. They'll carry out a series of tests and if they suspect that you have cataracts, they'll refer you to an opthalmologist for further tests. 

Find an NHS optician

Search the directory on the NHS website to find an NHS optician and sight test.

What are my treatment options if I have cataracts?

If your cataracts are mild, then stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may be helpful for a while. But cataracts do get worse over time, so eventually you’ll need surgery to remove the cataracts. 

During the surgery, the cloudy lens is removed from your eye and replaced with an artificial one. You should be able to go home on the same day.

Will I need glasses after cataracts surgery?

Whether or not you'll need glasses after cataracts surgery depends on whether you have the operation on the NHS or privately.

If you’re having your cataracts surgery on the NHS

The artificial lens is designed to give you clear vision for either near or distance vision without needing glasses. The lens implant can’t change focus from distance to near vision, so most people will need to wear glasses for certain tasks, depending on the type of lens they have fitted.

However, whilst the fitted lens should get rid of any cloudy or blurred vision you have, it may not always give you clear near or distance vision, so you may still need to wear glasses for some tasks, like reading. 

If you’re having your cataracts surgery privately

You may be able to choose an artificial lens that gives you clear near and distance vision without needing glasses. This would either be a multifocal or an accommodating lens.

Can cataracts come back after surgery?

The artificial lens that’s fitted can’t become cloudy in the same way as a natural lens, so there’s no chance of cataracts returning after your surgery.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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