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What is a cataract?

The lens inside the eye is normally transparent but this slowly changes as we age so that by our 50′s it is becoming a little more yellow. Through our 60′s and 70′s the yellow colour deepens to give an amber or brownish appearance and small denser opacities become visible. This is the formation of cataracts causing slowly blurring vision, glare in bright lights and reduction in colour awareness. Sometimes cataracts will develop at an earlier stage in life if, for example, the eye has suffered infection, inflammation or a traumatic injury. An illness like diabetes may cause cataracts to develop.

Occasionally babies or young children can even develop them.

The usual age-related cataract develops because proteins in the lens change due to age, heat or ultraviolet light exposure – that’s right, sunshine! You can see proteins change when you fry an egg. The white of the egg contains proteins that turn from fairly transparent to opaque white when cooked in the frying pan. Similarly the proteins in the eye’s lens slowly change through life when exposed to UV light.

So, what can you do to limit the development of cataracts? Well, first of all simply accept that to some degree they will happen anyway – we all age and nobody can select their genes or prevent all illness. You can limit your UV exposure by using good sunglasses when outdoors – look for the label UV400 on the lenses or use Transitions lenses that are available with your prescription built in. Have a good diet – fresh fruit and veg, oily fish occasionally. Do NOT smoke. Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

If cataract surgery is required you can be confident that good vision can be restored. When the cataract is removed many people are surprised at how vibrant colours appear again because they have slowly become used to the filter effect of the discoloured lens. More than 16 million cataract procedures were carried out last year throughout the world (in comparison to 2 million laser procedures) and the World Health Organisation consider it to be safest medical procedure ever developed. Increasingly, people are seeking cataract surgery before the cataracts develop to pre-empt the problems they cause. This procedure is painless and is called Natural Lens Replacement. In NLR a multifocal lens can replace the eye’s natural lens and aids vision at distance and near. At Optical Express we can give you clear guidance on your suitability for cataract surgery and NLR.

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