80% of world blindness is avoidable
Some eye diseases can cause subtle changes to vision that gradually get worse, eventually leading to blindness. One of the most common examples is cataracts, where the naturally clear lens in your eye becomes cloudy, and this condition can be treated.
Cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment in Australia
Approximately 31% of Australians are affected by cataracts. Because they are common in older people and our population is ageing, the prevalence of cataracts is increasing. People who smoke, use steroids, have diabetes and those who have had previous eye trauma are also at increased risk of developing cataracts.
Frequent changes to your glasses prescription may be a sign of cataracts
As the lens gets cloudier you may need a stronger glasses or contact-lens prescription, and find that your prescription is changing more often. You might also need magnifying lenses or increased lighting at home to help you see.
Difficulty distinguishing between similar colours is another sign of cataracts
In addition to causing cloudy and/or blurred vision, cataracts can affect how you see colours and how well you see in different lighting conditions. If you notice that colours are appearing faded or have a yellowish tinge, your night vision is poor or you have increased sensitivity to glare, you may be developing cataracts.
Deteriorating vision may be affecting your quality of life
As cataracts develop, you may learn to live with reduced vision by changing your lifestyle. This might include avoiding outdoor activities, hobbies such as sewing, reading or cooking, or even driving (especially at night).
Even subtle deterioration in vision due to cataracts can be treated
In the past, it was considered normal to wait until cataracts were quite mature and significantly affecting vision before they would be operated on. The reason for this was simply that early surgical techniques involved removing the cataract in one piece. However, we now use ultrasound and laser technology to break up the cataract before removal. In fact, it's actually better to operate on an immature cataract because we know that surgery time is shorter and patients recover quicker if we get in early.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed around the world, including in Australia
Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens, so you can see clearly again. It is a quick and generally safe procedure that can be performed in a day surgery.
The right time for surgery is different for everyone
A lot of people with very early cataracts can manage with prescription glasses, but cataract surgery may be necessary when glasses no longer improve vision, or if you want to restore your colour perception. Today's lifestyle means that older people are still quite active and used to being independent for longer, so maintaining good vision is really important. If your cataracts are affecting your lifestyle and ability to do everyday activities, it might be time to consider having them removed. At the end of the day, it's your quality of life that counts. And if you're not sure about when to have cataract surgery, talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
If you notice any deterioration in your vision you should have your eyes checked by an optometrist first. A referral to an ophthalmologist can be organised if necessary.
Dr Andre Horak is a comprehensive general ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon with experience treating a broad range of conditions, including cataracts, retinal conditions and glaucoma. He consults at Vision Eye Institute Mackay.
Vision Eye Institute is one of Australia's largest providers of ophthalmic services, with a network of general and specialist ophthalmologists in clinics throughout Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.