A cataract is a condition of the eye that makes it difficult to see as you normally would. The lens (the part of the eye that we use to focus) becomes clouded as a result of natural ageing. Cataracts usually occur in elderly people, but occasionally babies can be born with cataracts. These are known as congenital cataracts.
The eye is like a camera, with a lens system at the front and a photosensitive area at the back. The normal function of the lens is to focus light, allowing you to see sharp, clear images. If the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, the amount of light that can enter the eye is restricted, therefore reducing the eyesight.
A cataract usually develops gradually, and eventually makes it difficult to carry out daily activities such as reading, driving and watching television. It can also be hard to recognise faces. For these reasons, cataracts can significantly affect a persons’ quality of life, and reduce independence. If the cataract is not removed, vision usually becomes worse over time. One or both eyes can be affected, but a cataract cannot spread from one eye to the other. While they can impair the eyesight, cataracts are not painful or harmful and can be easily treated with a simple operation. They do not cause itching, redness or irritation of the eye.
The only effective treatment for a cataract is to have it surgically removed. Cataract surgery should be considered when you are having difficulty seeing well enough to carry out normal daily activities such as watching television, driving or reading. Cataract surgery is usually performed as a day case procedure under local anaesthetic. During the operation, the cloudy lens (cataract) is removed and replaced with an artificial lens (implant) inside your eye. This restores vision to its former clarity, and the artificial lens implant means that no cataract can form again in the future.