General information about cataracts

What is an ophthalmologist?

A medical doctor that treats eye conditions and eye diseases with medicine and surgery.

What is a cataract?

A cataract describes an ageing process within the lens of the eye that causes it to become more misty and it’s similar to looking through a fog, or patchy vision, which makes it harder to focus. When you are young, the lens is clear, but as you get older, the lens becomes more and more opaque.

A cataract begins yellowish in colour, then turns brown, and then eventually goes white. As it does so, it impairs the amount of light that allows for clear vision. Removing the cataract allows you to see more light and enables you to focus again.

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What causes cataracts?

Cataracts are extremely common – in fact we probably all know at least one or two people who have had them treated. Nearly 1/3 of people over 65 have a cataract.

The commonest cause of cataracts I see in patients is age­-related degeneration of the lens in the eye. There are three causes of this: nuclear sclerosis, cortical cataract and posterior subcapsular opacification. The details of these are not important, but what is important is that – with time – having these problems means that you will progressively lose your vision.

There are many risk factors for developing cataract. Just some of these are listed below:

  • Diabetes.
  • Smoking.
  • Uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, the Uvea).
  • Excess alcohol intake.
  • More common in women.
  • Steroid medication.
  • Injury to the eye.
  • Ultraviolet light exposure.

These are some of the conditions that predispose to developing a cataract with age – in other words, even if you have diabetes you won’t necessarily develop a cataract – but on the other hand, if you are a diabetic, the longer you have been a diabetic, and if the diabetes hasn’t been well controlled, then you are more likely to go on to develop a cataract.

Not only can cataracts develop with age and in association with certain medical problems like those above, some people can be born with cataracts (‘congenital cataracts’) or develop them at a young age.

Causes of cataracts in younger patients include:

  • Congenital (genetic problems such as galactosaemia)
  • Developmental problems
  • Acquired problems (trauma, diabetes, after radiotherapy)
  • Infections after birth (such as toxoplasmosis)
  • Infections before birth (such as Rubella, Cytomegalovirus, Herpes simplex)

These are just some of the causes of cataracts in both adults and children – there are many more that I haven’t mentioned here.

The important thing to remember though is that the commonest cause of cataracts is simply changes in the lens of the eye caused by ageing – and because there are so many older people in Britain today than before there are an awful lot of people with cataracts that need treating.

If you’re seeking private cataract surgery in London, contact us to schedule a free telephone consultation with Jaheed Khan by using the form at bottom right of this page.

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