Cataracts occur when there is a clouding of the eye's lens, a process which happens naturally as we age.
The lens is composed of a mixture of water and protein. The latter are perfectly aligned to allow light to pass through and hit the retina.
However, over time, some of the protein may clump together, creating what looks like a small cloudy area in the lens (a cataract) that obstructs the free passage of light. If left untreated a cataract can grow larger, covering more of the lens and making it hard to see.
A growing cataract will eventually lead to blindness. In fact, cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in Malta and around the world and are especially common in people over 40.
Causes of cataracts
It is unclear what causes the eye's lens to change in structure as we grow older. However, scientists have found several factors that could cause cataracts or are directly related to cataract development.
Symptoms and types of cataracts
Cataracts start out as a small clouding of an area of the eye's lens that initially has little effect on your vision.
A common symptom that people with cataracts begin to notice eventually is that their vision has become slightly blurred. Colours do not appear as vivid as they used to, and light sources seem too bright and glaring.
The exact symptoms that a person will experience is closely related to the type of cataract they have. An eye doctor can easily tell which type of cataract is present from an eye test.
There are three types of cataracts:
The early symptoms of a cataract can easily be improved using better lighting in your living and work spaces, stronger glasses, magnification and other visual aids.
When a cataract has grown to a point that is starts seriously affecting vision and quality of life, eye laser surgery is recommended to restore good vision.
During cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with a clear intraocular lens (IOL) made of plastic.
Using a laser approach, surgeons can create precise incisions and make the procedure safer and more effective. Healing after the operation is also quicker and the risk of infection is lower.
That being said, traditional cataract surgery is also very safe and effective. It is one of the most frequently performed procedures in Malta, with predictable results that are dependent on the surgeon's skill and experience.