Cataracts are changes to the lens of the eye that cause it to become progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision. 

Cataracts are caused by changes within the crystalline lens in the eye. As we age, the lens slowly changes, and so we do not always notice that cataracts are developing. Age-related cataracts normally occur after the age of 65, although diabetes, some medications taken over a long period, excessive exposure to sunlight, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption may all speed up the process.

Trauma may also cause cataracts to develop in younger people, and some childhood cataracts may be caused by congenital factors.

As the cataract develops, changes within the lens may cause your spectacle correction to change. It is at a subsequent visit to the optometrist that the first mention of possible cataracts will occur.

Opacities that form within the lens may cause light to scatter as it enters the eye and you may notice dazzle in low light from street lamps and car headlights. Cataracts may take some time to develop, and your optical practitioner may monitor progress for a while before referring you to an ophthalmologist. Rather like grey hair, cataracts are a normal part of the aging process and you should not be too alarmed if you are diagnosed.

These days, the treatment of choice will be an Intraocular lens (IOL). The procedure is normally carried out under a local anaesthetic in a day-surgery. The cloudy lens is removed and is replaced by a new IOL. The cataract will have been developing for some time, so you will have slowly become used to poorer vision. It can be quite a shock to realise how bright and clear the world really is after the lens is replaced! Your surgeon will discuss which type of IOL is most suitable for you.

Prior to the advent of IOL surgery, contact lenses were used to correct vision after cataract removal. They are sometimes still used in childhood cataract operations until the eye has grown sufficiently to permit an IOL to be implanted.

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