What are the Symptoms of a Cataract that Mean I Should Have Cataract Surgery?
As you get older, the likelihood of developing cataracts increases. Though not all people will grow cataracts at the same rate or beginning at the same age, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed operations in the world for a reason. Our ageing population means that hundreds of thousands of cataract surgery procedures are carried out every year in Australia alone. A question often asked by older patients to eyecare professionals is, what are the symptoms of a cataract? Keep reading to find out what are the symptoms of a cataract and how to decide whether you’re ready for cataract surgery.
What are Cataracts?
The term cataract is derived from cataractis, meaning portcullis in Greek. It is thought that the word for cataracts in the context of the eye evolved from this because a cataract obscures the vision, like how a portcullis blocks the entrance to a building.
A cataract is, therefore, any opacification or haze of the lens inside the eye. Depending on the stage of your developing cataracts, the opacity may have little to no impact on your sight. Conversely, an advanced cataract can render a person legally blind in that eye. Fortunately, in most cases, lost sight from a cataract can be restored with cataract surgery.
The majority of cataracts requiring cataract surgery are known as senile or age-related cataracts. There are three types of age-related cataracts, one or all of which can present in the same eye:
- Nuclear sclerosis appears as a yellow-brown haze in the centre of the lens
- Anterior cortical cataracts begin as little bubbles in the front part of the lens, which then progress into white-grey spoke-like opacities radiating from the edge of the lens
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts often develop as a dense white-grey plaque at the back surface of the lens
What are the Symptoms of a Cataract?
The symptoms of a developing cataract can vary depending on the type of cataract, its location within the lens, and how advanced or dense the opacity is. Cataract symptoms reported by a person can even differ based on how sensitive they are to their vision and how they use their sight for their daily tasks. In general, cataracts are known to result in the following symptoms.
Declining clarity and quality of sight
This symptom is probably the most well-known and expected for someone developing cataracts. However, it’s not just blurry vision that you should look out for. People with cataracts can also describe a hazy or cloudy quality to their sight. Some will say it feels like looking through a dirty window or smudged spectacle lenses that can’t be cleaned. Overall, you may feel that your vision is just not as crisp and sharp as it used to be.
It can be difficult to identify that your sight is deteriorating in this way as it tends to happen very slowly over many years. More commonly, in certain situations, you realise you aren’t seeing as well as you used to. For example, you’re less able to recognise faces from a distance or read street signs until you get closer.
Poorer contrast sensitivity
Contrast sensitivity is our ability to discern details against an environment of similar shading. For example, grey text on a white background is lower contrast than black text on a white background. You may find that your cataracts interfere with your ability to read in dim lighting. Whereas you once used to be able to get away with reading the paper in a certain room of the house, you now need to take your paper to the window to improve the contrast under natural sunlight. It may also feel unsafe to walk at dusk or night-time because you’re less able to pick out uneven surfaces in the low ambient lighting.
Increasing glare sensitivity
Though many people have some degree of discomfort around overly bright lights, a progressing cataract may mean you feel more affected than you used to. As the cataract scatters light passing through the lens, we perceive this as glare. The impact of glare can range from slightly uncomfortable to debilitating. Increasing sensitivity to glare can be most apparent when driving at night-time. The headlights from oncoming cars on the road can feel particularly blinding, and even overhead street lights might be uncomfortable. Another telling scenario may be when you feel the illumination off backlit digital devices such as tablets and computers is also uncomfortable, and you need to reduce the screen brightness.
Frequent prescription changes
As a cataract grows, it can change the power of the lens. This shift can subsequently alter your spectacle or contact lens prescription. You may find yourself becoming more short-sighted or long-sighted and even more or less astigmatic.
What are Cataract Symptoms that Mean I Should Have Cataract Surgery?
The timing of cataract surgery is primarily dependent on how much your cataract symptoms are interfering with what you need to be able to do and see. This can vary widely from person to person. Two people may have exactly the same sight through their cataract, but one has very high visual demands (for example, birdwatching), while the other spends most of their time on a computer. The one engaging in the more intense visual activities is more likely to want cataract surgery earlier than the other.
If you think your sight is reaching the point of needing cataract surgery, speak to your optometrist or ophthalmologist. They will also be able to give you further guidance on what are the symptoms of a cataract that you may need to look out for and how you may expect them to impact your sight.
Call us on (03) 9070 3580 for a consulatation.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Cataracts: Symptoms & Causes