Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in Australia. However, before you see a cataract surgeon, your cataracts first need to be diagnosed. It’s not uncommon for cataracts to be diagnosed during a routine optometrist examination before you’ve even noticed any changes to your sight. This being said, understanding what does cataract vision look like can help you to be on the lookout for symptoms.
The symptoms of a cataract can vary from person to person, depending on a few factors, which can affect the answer to what does cataract vision look like for you. One individual may be more sensitive to changes to their sight and therefore be more impacted by an early or mild cataract. The location and size of a cataract will also play a big part in the symptoms one experiences.
Early or mild cataracts often go unnoticed until you attend a routine optometrist visit. For some people, a cataract can reach the moderate stage and still not be causing any concerns that need to be addressed by a cataract surgeon.
As your cataracts develop, these are some signs and symptoms you might slowly become aware of.
Reducing contrast sensitivity.
This can be a vague concept to understand. Contrast sensitivity is your ability to discern subtle differences between light and dark details. For example, the typical letter chart used for most vision testing uses bold black letters against a bright white background.
This is a high contrast chart. However, in the real world, not everything we need to see is high contrast. If you’re developing cataracts, you may find you begin to experience increased difficulties in seeing in certain situations.
This can include driving through heavy rain, detecting the edge of a step, or reading in the dim lighting of a restaurant.
Deteriorating clarity of sight.
Many assume that cataracts should cause blurry vision. For some, this is the case. However, many people with cataracts don’t always describe their sight as blurry. Instead, you may think of your sight as more filmy, foggy, cloudy, or hazy. Some describe the sensation as looking through a dirty window or glasses lenses that can’t be cleaned.
Altering colour perception.
One type of age-related cataract known as nuclear sclerosis forms as a yellowish-brown haze to the centre of your lens. The effect of this is to filter certain wavelengths of light as they enter the eye. Although not many people are so attuned to their colour perception, those that are may find the colours of the world around them slowly take on a different hue. The impact of cataracts on your colour perception is more noticeable once you’ve had cataract surgery. You may notice colours suddenly appear much brighter and more vibrant.
Frequently shifting prescription.
As a cataract form, it can change the prescription of your glasses or contact lenses. This shift can go in any direction, depending on the type of cataract. For example, you may find yourself becoming more short-sighted, more long-sighted, or your astigmatism either increases or decreases. If your prescription is changing so often that it becomes financially unviable to keep updating your glasses, your cataract surgeon or optometrist may recommend cataract surgery, even if you feel your sight is okay overall.
Increasing glare sensitivity.
If you find yourself beginning to avoid driving at night time because the glare of oncoming headlights is too debilitating, you may be experiencing increased glare sensitivity from cataracts. Also known as photophobia, this can also manifest in situations such as finding backlit digital screens quite uncomfortable to view, and you need to reduce the screen brightness to see it properly.
When is it Time for Cataract Surgery?
Despite experiencing one or all of the signs and symptoms listed above, it’s most likely not necessary that you need to rush into cataract surgery. Your primary eyecare provider – your optometrist – will be able to assess your cataracts and have a discussion about what does your cataract vision look like and how it’s impacting your daily activities. If you both agree it’s time for cataract surgery, your optometrist or GP can refer you to a cataract surgeon.
The point at which cataract surgery is indicated will vary depending on a number of factors. For example, if one of your hobbies is painting, you may find that your inaccurate colour perception is affecting your artwork. If you work as a truck driver doing long overnight trips, your increased glare sensitivity or reduced contrast sensitivity may make it unsafe on the road for you. Conversely, if you’re noticing a decline in your sight but are still functioning quite comfortably, you may choose to defer cataract surgery until your daily activities are more impacted.
Your optometrist will be able to advise you if there are other modifications you can make in the meantime while you wait for your cataract operation. This may include simply adjusting your lighting around the house or workplace, such as using a directed lamp or task lighting when trying to read the fine print. If you find digital screens uncomfortable, turning down the brightness can make them easier to view. If your cataracts are only causing a slow and gradual shift in your prescription, updating your glasses or contact lenses could be a good option for making your vision easier. As your cataracts progress, eventually updating your prescription still won’t be adequate; your optometrist will likely refer you to a cataract surgeon at this point if you haven’t been referred already.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Contrast Sensitivity Testing.