If your vision has become blurry, cloudy or dim, or things you see are not as bright or colourful as they used to be, a cataract may have developed in one or both of your eyes.

Many people say that their vision with cataracts is similar to the effect of looking through a dirty car windshield.

As a cataract begins to develop, you may not initially notice any changes in your vision. Gradually, as cataracts progress, you may begin to find that it interferes with your daily activities and you may experience symptoms such as:

•Painless cloudy, blurry or dim vision;

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•More difficulty seeing at night or in low light;

•Sensitivity to light and glare;

•Seeing halos around lights;

•Faded or yellowed colours;

•The need for brighter light for reading and other activities;

•Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription;

•Double vision within one eye.

RISK FACTORS

Besides advancing age, cataract risk factors include:

•Diabetes;

•A family history of cataracts;

•Extensive exposure to sunlight;

•Smoking;

•Obesity;

•High blood pressure;

•Previous eye injury or inflammation (swelling) in the eye;

•Long-term use of steroid medication (especially combined use of oral and inhaled steroids).

HELPFUL TIPS

Performing a complete eye exam, your ophthalmologist can tell you whether cataract or another problem is the cause of your vision loss.

No studies have proved how to prevent cataracts or slow the progression of cataracts. However, doctors think several strategies may be helpful, including:

•Have regular eye examinations. Eye examinations can help detect cataracts and other eye problems at their earliest stages. Ask your doctor how often you should have an eye examination; Quit smoking. Ask your doctor for suggestions about how to stop smoking. Medications, counselling and other strategies are available to help you;

•Reduce alcohol use. Excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of cataracts;

•Wear sunglasses. Ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts. Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays when you're outdoors;

•Manage other health problems. Follow your treatment plan if you have diabetes or other medical conditions that can increase your risk of cataracts;

•Maintain a healthy weight. If you currently have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by exercising most days of the week. If you're overweight or obese, work to lose weight slowly by reducing your calorie intake and increasing the amount of exercise you get each day;

•Choose a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Adding a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables to your diet ensures that you're getting many vitamins and nutrients. Fruits and vegetables have many antioxidants, which help maintain the health of your eyes.

SURGERY

There are no medications or eye drops that will make cataracts go away — surgery is the only treatment.

A cataract may not need to be removed right away if your lifestyle isn't significantly affected. In some cases, simply changing your eyeglass prescription may help to improve your vision.

Once you are diagnosed with a cataract, your ophthalmologist needs to monitor your vision regularly for any changes.

When a cataract causes bothersome vision problems that interfere with your daily activities, your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery to remove the cataract.

With cataract surgery, your eye's cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens implant (called an intraocular lens or IOL).

This is usually done as a day-stay procedure. If the eye is healthy, the
likelihood is that cataract surgery will restore good vision.