What are the symptoms of cataracts?

  • Blurred, misty or cloudy vision
  • You may find it more difficult to see in dim or very bright light
  • Bright lights may be dazzling or uncomfortable to look at
  • Colours may look faded or less clear with a yellow or brown tinge
  • You may have double vision
  • You may see a haloes (circles of light) around bright lights, such as car headlights or street lights

Cataracts develop over many years and problems may at first be unnoticeable. They often develop in both eyes, although each eye may be affected differently.

Cataracts are not painful and don’t make your eyes red or irritated. You’ll usually have blurred, cloudy or misty vision, or you may have small spots or patches where your vision is less clear.

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts occur when cloudy patches develop in the clear lens inside your eyes, stopping light from reaching the back of the eye, and causing blurred or misty vision.

In most people, cataracts simply develop as they age. Several other factors may also increase your risk of developing cataracts, including:

  • A family history of cataracts
  • Smoking
  • Regularly drinking excessive alcohol
  • A poor diet lacking in vitamins
  • Lifelong exposure of your eyes to UV light
  • Taking steroid medication over a long time
  • Previous eye surgery or injury
  • Certain health conditions, such as diabetes

What help is available?

When you have your eyes examined by your Specsavers optometrist, they will use a variety of instruments to look inside and check for cataracts.

If your cataracts are mild, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may be helpful for some time. However, most cataracts get worse over time (often many years) so it’s likely you will eventually need treatment.

The only treatment that is proven to be effective for cataracts is surgery. This will usually be recommended if your loss of vision has a significant effect on your daily activities, such as driving or reading.

If it is thought you have cataracts that are affecting your quality of life, you can be referred to an ophthalmologist who can confirm the diagnosis and plan your treatment.

Cataracts surgery

What does cataract surgery involve?

If an operation is suitable, it will be conducted by an ophthalmologist, who will carry out assessments on your eyes and vision.

Most cataract operations are done using a local anaesthetic. You will be awake, but the ophthalmologist will make sure you do not feel the area around your eye. You will hear the ophthalmologist explaining what they are doing, and you may see some vague movements around your eye.

The ophthalmologist will make a tiny cut in your eye to remove the cataract, and will normally insert a plastic replacement lens so that you can see clearly. This will usually take around 15-45 minutes.

You will not normally need stitches, but your eye will be covered to protect it from knocks after the operation. You will be allowed to go home the same day, but should have someone to go with you and to look after you for 24 hours after surgery. Do not drive.

Do cataracts only occur in one eye?

If you have had a cataract removed from one eye, it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye at some point in the future.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is a hugely successful procedure and the overwhelming majority of patients are happy with the results.

However, as with all surgery, there are risks involved and you should not have the operation unless you feel it is right for you.

Before you have surgery the risks will be discussed with you, and how they apply to your individual case. The time to have surgery may vary from person to person.

Popular questions

If it is not interfering with your daily life it is safe to leave a cataract in your eye. It does not become more difficult to remove if you wait before having surgery, although you will not be able to see as well as the cataract worsens.

The cataract does not have to become ‘ripe’ for you to have the operation. Surgery can be done as soon as the cataract is interfering with your daily life.

To try to prevent cataracts, or to stop them getting worse, wear good quality sunglasses with UV protection and don’t smoke.

You will be given eye drops to use for the first few weeks after your operation. There may be additional checks within that time depending on your case.

You should avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise immediately after the operation, but you can carry on with most other activities around the home as normal.

Nearly all of your vision will return within two days of surgery and many people are able to return to their usual daily routine 24 hours after the operation.

You should avoid eye make-up, swimming, and getting soapy water in your eyes when you wash your hair for two weeks after the operation. If you go out on a windy day, you may feel safer with sunglasses to prevent grit getting in your eye.

Ask your ophthalmologist about when you can go back to work.

Your eyesight will settle down in a few days or weeks. After cataract surgery most people need to wear glasses for either distance, near vision or both.

If you wore glasses before the operation you will probably find that they will need changing after the operation, so you will need to see your Specsavers optometrist again for an eye examination about a month after the surgery. Your ophthalmologist or Specsavers optometrist will be able to advise you as to when you can start driving again.

You may find that it takes a few weeks to adapt to your vision with new glasses after cataract surgery. This is normal, and is due to your brain adapting to a different prescription.

After some months or years, some people notice that their vision becomes cloudy or misty again in the eye where the cataract has been removed. This is not the cataract returning, but is due to the capsule which contains the replacement lens clouding up. This cloudiness can be removed by painless laser treatment in a matter of minutes. Contact your optometrist for advice if you are worried that this is happening to you.

You can drive when you have cataracts, provided you still meet the legally required vision standards for driving. There is no need to tell the driving authority about your cataract unless you cannot meet the standards. Your Specsavers optometrist can advise you on this.

Did you know?

AA Members are entitled to a free eye test (valued at $60), once every two years. Remember to present your AA Membership card in store.

Frequently asked questions

Free exam for AA Members applies to standard eye examinations only, normally valued at $60. Excludes contact lens examination and visual field checks. Limited to one per AA Member every two years. Available to current AA Members upon presentation of AA Membership card.