cataract causes melbourne

Cataract Causes That You Should Know About

Cataracts are a part of life, they come along part and parcel with the white hairs and wrinkles. A cataract is an opacity or haze that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye, which sits just behind the coloured iris at the front of the eyeball. The clouding of this lens causes the typical cataract symptoms of blurry vision, increased glare sensitivity, and reduced contrast sensitivity. Though the idea of a cataract causes anxiety for some, in Australia we have easy access to a high standard of care with cataract surgery via both the private and public systems. 

So, what causes cataracts?


Cataract Causes

Topping the list of cataract causes is age. As mentioned before, cataracts are a part of life simply because they come naturally with age. This makes cataract surgery one of the most commonly performed procedures in a developed society. The underlying mechanism behind increasing age as it causes cataracts is not fully understood. Doctors believe there to be a contribution from cumulative UV exposure over an individual’s lifetime, which causes oxidative damage to the lens. The crystalline lens also continuously grows more lens fibres with age, which may cause the inner fibres to become compacted and lose their transparency. 

Age-related UV exposure isn’t the only situation that causes cataracts. Studies have found that groups of people who are exposed to high amounts of sunlight and UV, especially at a younger age, have a higher risk of cataracts. This includes those who work outdoors or those who live in countries with a lot of sun, such as equatorial regions. Because of this, wearing sun protection for the eyes such as a hat and sunglasses can reduce your need for cataract surgery.  

Smoking is also known as one of the causes of cataracts in addition to being responsible for contributing to other blinding eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration. Studies have shown the risk of a smoker developing a cataract and needing cataract surgery is twice as high as someone who has never smoked. Fortunately, quitting smoking can help to lower your risk of developing cataract symptoms, but as this risk is still higher compared to someone who has never smoked, it’s better to have never smoked in the first place. 

risks cataract causes melbourneAlso on the list of cataract causes is diabetes. Also known as a “sugar cataract”, experts estimate about 4% of all cataracts are due to diabetes. The elevated blood glucose concentration affects the water content of the lens in the eye, causing the fibres to degenerate and opacify. People with diabetes are thought to be at a 60% greater risk of developing cataracts. 

The use of steroid medications can increase the risk of developing cataract symptoms and requiring early cataract surgery. This applies to both systemic and topical steroids, including inhaled steroids, such as those for asthma. The higher the dose and the longer the treatment, the increased likelihood of experiencing a steroid-induced cataract. 

Trauma to the eye, such as a hit to the eye or an electric shock can cause cataracts, as can inflammatory eye diseases such as uveitis. Eye trauma may also include certain eye operations. The procedure of treating a retinal detachment will often induce a cataract, which must then be treated with cataract surgery after the retinal detachment has been managed.  

Other cataract causes include health issues such as obesity and hypertension. When the body is overweight, the excess fat tissue releases a chemical known as leptin that induces oxidative stress on the eye, which can result in opacification of the lens fibres. Although it’s not fully understood how hypertension causes cataracts, it thought that elevated blood pressure can increase inflammation in the body, which in turn exacerbates cataract formation and increases the risk of requiring cataract surgery.

Several studies have linked alcohol consumption with the development of a cataract. It has been found that the higher the alcohol intake, the greater the risk of age-related cataracts. However, studies have also noted that moderate alcohol consumption, defined as less than 20g of alcohol per day, may in fact have a protective effect on developing cataracts.


A Word on Cataract Surgery

Early symptoms of a cataract usually do not need immediate cataract surgery. Many people are able to work around their cataract symptoms with simple solutions, such as using a bright lamp for sewing or reading a book, or reducing the screen brightness on their digital devices to alleviate glare. 

Cataract surgery in Australia is a safe procedure with a high success rate. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist is the best person to discuss with you when you might be ready for cataract surgery – if you’ve just been diagnosed with cataracts this is likely to be not for years. In some cases, you may be advised to proceed with surgery sooner, such as if the delay in removing your cataracts is likely to put your eyes at risk of developing another problem or if you no longer meet the vision requirements for holding a driver’s license. 

After your cataracts are removed in a quick day-procedure, you will find your vision is significantly clearer, possibly even restored to the clarity you once had years ago. 



Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

what is cataract melbourne

What is a Cataract and How is the Vision Problem Treated?

You’ve just celebrated your 60th birthday and have turned up to your regular yearly eye test feeling pretty good – you’re generally fit and healthy and have no noticeable vision problems. But then your optometrist gives you a birthday present you could have done without – telling you that you have an early cataract

This triggers a bunch of questions, such as exactly what is a cataract and will you need to have cataract surgery immediately? The good news is that you’re not likely to need to be rushed into cataract surgery but it will still be helpful to understand what vision problems to look out for that might indicate those cataracts are ready to be removed. 


What is a Cataract?

A cataract refers to any opacity of the lens inside the eye. This lens is also called the crystalline lens, a transparent anatomical structure that sits behind the coloured iris near the front of your eyeball. In addition to being responsible for flexing its shape to allow focus at different viewing distances, the lens must remain optically clear to allow light to pass through it. 

At birth, this lens is crystal clear (barring a congenital cataract). As we age, various factors such as UV exposure and oxidative stress change the structure of the fibres in the lens, resulting in the crystalline lens becoming increasingly hazy with time. There are three types of age-related cataract:

  • Nuclear sclerosis: the nucleus of the lens is its central core. Nuclear sclerosis refers to the development of a yellowish-brownish haze in this area.
  • Cortical cataract: the cortex of the lens refers to the lens fibres surrounding the nucleus. When viewed from the front on, a cortical cataract appears as white or grey spoke-like opacities radiating from the outer edge of the lens.
  • Posterior subcapsular cataract: surrounding the cortex of the lens is the capsule. A posterior subcapsular cataract is a dense plaque-like opacity that grows just beneath the capsule at the back surface of the lens. 

The vision problems caused by a cataract will vary, depending on the degree of the cataract and its location, or type. In the early stages, a cataract will cause no noticeable issues at all. Eventually, someone with a progressing cataract will begin to notice their vision is blurry or hazy, and not as crisp as it once was.

cause what is cataract melbourneA person with nuclear sclerosis may also notice changes to their colour vision as the brownish clouding of their lens nucleus filters out certain wavelengths of colour from reaching the retina. The cataract may also affect contrast sensitivity, noticed during activities such as trying to read in poor light like a menu at a dimly lit restaurant or driving in rainy conditions.

Cortical and posterior subcapsular cataracts can contribute to an increase in glare sensitivity, which translates to increasing difficulty with driving at night when faced with oncoming car headlights or street lights. Even indoor lights may become uncomfortable to view. The extent to which these vision problems impact an individual’s daily function is typically what drives someone to undergo cataract surgery


What is a Cataract Caused By? 

Apart from age, which is by far the most common cause of a cataract, the formation of a cataract is also related to other risk factors, such as:

  • The prolonged use of medications such as corticosteroids, whether oral or in eye drop form
  • Systemic metabolic diseases such as diabetes
  • Trauma, such as physical trauma or an electric shock
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight and UV radiation
  • Smoking
  • Having a previous inflammatory eye disease
  • Certain types of eye surgeries, including retinal detachment repair


Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the developed world. As cataracts are a normal part of ageing, all those who reach a reasonable life span are expected to develop some degree of cataract, though unfortunately, not everyone has access to basic eye care, such as cataract surgery

Fortunately for us in Australia, cataract surgery is readily available through any number of highly skilled and experienced ophthalmologists. 

Typically, a cataract surgery procedure is quick and uneventful. It is performed as day surgery and most eye specialists take only 20 minutes per eye for uncomplicated cases. After having the eye numbed with a local anaesthetic, a small incision is made in the cornea. This allows a surgical tool to be inserted into the eye to break up the cataract into smaller pieces, which can then be suctioned out. Different ophthalmologists will have their own preferences as to which technique they use to fragment the cataract. In Australia, some surgeons will use a femtosecond laser to perform the majority of this, while others prefer to utilise a technique known as phacoemulsification. Both methods are safe and effective, with similar visual outcomes in uncomplicated eyes. 

After the cataract surgery, an implant known as an intraocular lens is inserted in the place of the removed cataract. This implant is important as it bends incoming light to fall onto the sensory retina to allow for clear vision. One great benefit of cataract surgery is that many people are able to have an intraocular lens that accounts for their eye’s prescription, meaning they no longer need to wear glasses for long-distance vision after their procedure.

Call us on (03) 9070 5753 for a consultation.



Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.