What are cataracts?

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or misty, similar to the effect of looking through frosted glass. The lens sits just behind the pupil and is usually transparent, allowing light to pass through to the retina.

Cataracts are the primary cause of vision loss for people over 40 and the main cause of blindness in the world.

The lens of the eye is composed of water and protein, the protein is naturally arranged to keep the lens clear. In the case of cataracts, some of the protein will clump together and cause a cloudy appearance in a small part of the lens. Over time, this can grow larger, making it more difficult to see.

Who do cataracts mostly affect?

While it’s mainly adults who are affected by cataracts, babies and children can also be susceptible to the condition. This is referred to as childhood cataracts and is relatively rare. Congenital cataracts are present when a baby is born or shortly afterwards, whilst developmental cataracts emerge in older babies and children. They can also cause a squint and what is often referred to as ‘wobbling eyes’, where the eyes point in different directions. Surgery can usually fix this condition without too many complications.

It’s important that babies are checked as early as possible to spot signs of cataracts and reduce the risk of complications from long-term vision problems.

Possible causes can include infections (chickenpox and rubella) passed on from mothers while babies are still in the womb, genetic faults inherited from the child’s parents and eye injuries picked up after birth.

How to treat cataracts?

In some minor cases of cataracts, you’ll be able to counter the effects by wearing a stronger prescription of contact lenses or glasses.

However, cataracts typically worsen as time goes on, meaning that eventually surgery is required. This surgery is known as cataract removal, and is a very common and widely successful surgery that can be done in a day.

If you’re suffering from cataracts, it’s very important to visit your GP or optician to find out how far along your condition is and what level of treatment is required.

Quick links:

A guide to congenital cataracts
Do I need an eye test?



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