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Cataracts: What is it

A cataract is a condition in which the lens of your eye turns cloudy, preventing sufficient light from entering your eye therefore reducing vision. Eventually, this deterioration in vision will interfere with your daily activities, such as reading or driving a car (particularly at night).

Most cataracts develop slowly and you may not notice it at the earlier stages of the condition. However, your vision will be affected as the clouding progresses.

Although cataracts do not cause irritation or pain, it is the most common cause of blindness in the world. Fortunately, it is treatable with safe and effective surgery.

Causes of Cataracts

Cataract formation is associated with ageing and is common in the elderly. In young people, it can be congenital, associated with inflammatory eye disease or due to injuries.

Other risk factors include prolonged UV light exposure, long-term use of certain medications and medical conditions such as diabetes.

Are cataracts dangerous?

Cataracts are not dangerous to eye health unless they become completely white. This condition, called an overripe or hypermature cataract, can cause raised eye pressure and present suddenly with redness and pain in the eye, as well as headaches. If a cataract causes inflammation and raised eye pressure, it will need to be removed.

Symptoms of Cataracts

The first sign that you may have a cataract is if you have blurred vision that cannot be corrected with the usual corrective visual aids such as glasses. Other signs include you needing frequent change of glasses, colours appearing dull, poor vision in bright light, haloes around lights, difficulty in reading, watching television or driving at night.

Signs and symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Clouded, blurred or dim vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night that worsens with time
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • The need for bright light when reading and when performing other tasks
  • Fading or yellowing of colours
  • Double vision in one eye

Symptoms of cataracts according to Singapore National Eye Centre

Risk Factors of Cataracts

Everyone is at risk because age is the greatest risk factor. Your risk of developing cataracts increases with:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Prior eye injury or inflammation
  • Prior eye surgery
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid drugs
  • Excessive exposure to UV light
  • Smoking

Treatment for Cataracts

Cataracts cannot be cured with medication.

Lifestyle adjustments such as changing your spectacle power, using a magnifying glass to read or improving the lighting in your home can be adopted in the earlier stages of the condition.

Cataract surgery is required when the condition starts to interfere with your daily activities. It is a painless, safe and effective surgery. During the procedure, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with a clear lens implant.

Safer healing in cataract surgery

Most cataract surgeries are performed using a technique called phacoemulsification which does away with the need for stitches. The procedure involves making a small incision of 1.5 to 3mm on the cornea. A vibrating instrument is then introduced into the eye through this incision. This process causes emulsification (i.e. softening) of the clouded lens, which is sucked out through the instrument. The capsule of the lens is thus left behind to receive the lens implant.

Sometimes, the cataracts are removed without the need to implant new lenses. In these cases, vision can be corrected with aids such as glasses or contact lenses. Cataract surgery is performed as a day surgery without general anaesthesia.

Please consult your Family Doctor if you have any concerns about your health.

Specialist services available at the following SingHealth institution:

Singapore National Eye Centre
Tel: 6227 7266