A cataract can be nuclear, cortical or subcapsular, and each of these types of cataract form for different reasons. A nuclear cataract is commonly referred to as an age-related cataract, and it's caused by changes in the structure of the protein in the centre of the lens. These changes take place as part of the body's natural ageing process, which causes the protein to clump together. Over time, the lens develops an opaque layer that reduces your vision by interfering with light reaching the retina. If left untreated, sufferers can experience complete loss of vision.
The earliest symptom most people experience when developing age-related cataracts is visual disturbances, which can affect you constantly or intermittently. Blurred vision, floaters, flashes and dulling of colours are common. You may also experience an increased sensitivity to natural or artificial light, which can potentially make driving at night unsafe.
Surgical removal of the cataract is currently the only treatment option, and the surgery is carried out as a day case procedure using local anaesthetic. Some patients would rather avoid the surgery until their quality of life is suffering, and you can decide when the right time is for you to have surgery. However, as age-related cataracts are progressive in nature, surgery is inevitable if you want to restore your sight.
Your ophthalmic surgeon will break your damaged lens into tiny fragments using a small laser. The lens fragments are then removed using a suction device and the lens is replaced. The replacement lens is plastic and simply slots into the lens capsule. You can choose a lens with focusing power if you wore glasses before developing cataracts, and this can prevent the need for glasses or prevent you needing a strong glasses prescription.
Your vision will be restored immediately, so there's no need to schedule time out of your normal activities for recovery. Of course, complications can occur with all types of surgery, and your surgeon will talk you through the potential risks, such as infection, before you schedule the procedure.
If you're experiencing visual disturbances, you should schedule an eye test as soon as possible. However, you don't have to be experiencing any symptoms to have a cataract. In the early stages of an age-related cataract developing, you may not notice any changes to your vision but an eye doctor can, so having regular eye tests will allow for early diagnosis.