For an organ as complex and delicate as the eye, there are many eye diseases that can cause permanent vision loss. Fortunately, cataracts are not one of them.
Cataracts are a normal part of ageing, almost considered an inevitable finding in the eye of anyone over the age of 60. Because of the accessibility to timely cataract surgery in Australia, although a cataract may result in some bothersome cataract symptoms, complete vision loss is extremely rare. However, knowing when to seek cataract surgery is partly dependent on being able to recognise cataract symptoms when they begin to show.
What You Should Know About Cataract Symptoms?
The cataract symptoms one individual notices may be different from the next. This can be because of a few factors, such as the type and location of your cataract, how advanced it is, and how sensitive you are to changes in your vision. This will play a part in the timing of cataract surgery later down the track.
A cataract is an opacity or haze of the crystalline lens inside the eye, which is usually transparent to allow the transmission of light for the purposes of vision. Theoretically, an advanced cataract can cause severe vision loss and legal blindness. However, in Australia, patients rarely reach this point due to the accessibility of quality cataract surgery in our country. This being said, certain populations, such as indigenous or remote communities, have an unequal opportunity to access basic eye care, including timely cataract surgery. In such areas, we find more advanced cases of cataract-related vision loss.
Here are some of the common symptoms of a cataract
Decreased clarity of vision is probably the most commonly well-known and expected symptom of a cataract. However, some individuals may describe their vision in a different way. You may feel your vision is not necessarily blurry, but rather foggy, filmy, cloudy, or hazy. Some people feel like they’re constantly looking through a dirty window, or that their glasses are always smudged. The degree to which a cataract impacts your clarity of vision will often depend on its location and how advanced it is. It is not uncommon for cataract opacities located peripherally in the lens or early cataracts to not have much of an effect on your visual acuity.
Decreased contrast sensitivity
As a cataract progresses, many patients will begin to report that they feel they need better lighting to see comfortably. This may be the most obvious in certain scenarios, such as trying to read the small print in suboptimal lighting or distinguishing coloured text against a coloured background.
You may find you now need a lamp directed onto your book when reading at night, or you prefer to read the newspaper by the natural light of a window. Driving in cloudy or rainy conditions can also become more challenging due to the deterioration of your contrast sensitivity.
Increased glare sensitivity
Certain cataract types are more associated with glare sensitivity, also known as photophobia. One type of age-related cataract known as a posterior subcapsular cataract is often known to cause increased photophobia, due to the nature of its location. As incoming light is scattered by the cataract opacity, our eyes interpret this discomfort as glare. Although everyone is affected by glare to some degree, you may find that as your cataract advances, environments and activities that were once not a problem now start to become uncomfortable. This can include facing oncoming car headlights when driving at night or viewing a digital screen. LED or backlit signs can also be more uncomfortable or difficult to read, particularly if the ambient lighting is low.
Frequent changes to your prescription
The crystalline lens is partly responsible for bending, or refracting, light as it enters the eye. The degree to which the lens does this is, in part, dictated by its refractive index. As a cataract develops, the refractive index of this lens can change. One type of age-related cataract, nuclear sclerosis, is often associated with a myopic shift, which involves a prescription becoming more short-sighted. Conversely, another type of age-related cataract, anterior cortical cataract, is known to cause a hyperopic, or long-sighted, shift in one’s prescription. As your cataract grows, you may find that your glasses don’t last you for as long as they used to, and you need to update the prescription every year or even more frequently in order to keep your vision clear. At some point, even updating your glasses or contact lenses to the best possible prescription may not be sufficient to provide you with adequate vision. It’s at this point where you may consider cataract surgery.
How Do You Know It’s Time for Cataract Surgery?
The timing of cataract surgery is largely up to you, as the patient. You may want to consider factors such as:
- Your hobbies or vocation. Do you often engage in activities that need a high level of accurate vision? For example, do you often drive long distances in the early morning and feel you can’t see comfortably in these road conditions?
- Your tolerance to vision changes. Are you someone who is very sensitive to even mild blur or are you quite happy, feeling you can still see what you need to?
- Do you meet the driving vision requirements? Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can help you determine whether you meet the vision limits to hold a driver’s licence in your state.
In most cases, cataract surgery can be delayed until you are comfortable to proceed. Speak to your eye care provider about what is right for you. Call us on (03) 9000 0389 today.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.