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Cataracts: Seeing through Fog

Today was my oldest daughter’s birthday. As she has gotten older the desire to wake up early and rip through presents has diminished and the need to sleep a lot has become more important. I enjoy exercising in the morning and took full advantage of her newly acquired sleeping need, using this time to hit the road for a run, before the princess awoke from her slumber. Stepping out into the dark and cold at times is a challenge but on this day the run was fair more challenging than expected.

Due to changes in overnight weather condition, my home town was covered in a heavy low fog that limited vision to less than a few meters. What were normally well organised streets and landmarks that allowed me to know exactly how far I had run were barely visible. The street lights although on were distorted and at time unable to penetrate the pea soup I found myself in. Fortunately, my running buddies acted as not so much a compass but as a support network collectively navigating what felt like uncharted territories. We often found ourselves slowing to a walking pace for what seemed like approaching UFOs as motor vehicles, finding themselves in a similar dilemma, safely passed.

Arriving home, the birthday festivities had begun with the household blissfully unaware of moorish weather condition prevailing outside. My family took no notice of my welfare as I run often and my return was unremarkable. I had a lovely time watching my first-born delight in her birthday gifts and make plans for her day ahead. I head into the shower and stood enjoying the warmth when it dawned on me that I now have such a greater understanding of what of my patience with cataracts experience.

Over many years of working as an Optometrist working in rural locations I am often the first person someone will see about their loss of vision, clarity, issues with colours, trouble driving at night, double vision, problems with glare or significant changes in prescription. Cataracts, typically in people over the age of 55, develop on the lens (that sits just behind our iris) as a small mass of dead/damaged cells that generally increase slowly in number. This increasing mass that is cloudy reduces the amount of light that can transfer through the eye to the retina reducing vision and quality of vision.

In most cases, patients will when given the right glasses prescription find they generally manage with their vision quite well. Unfortunately, over time those with cataracts are likely to require a surgical procedure to remove the now hazy lens and replace it with an artificial lens. With the artificial lens in place patients vision is vastly improved and the strength of the prescription for glasses is often reduced.

Patients who have diabetes are more at risk of developing secondary cataracts and it is also recommended that patients at risk of cataracts reduce/quit smoking and reduce their alcohol consumption to reduce the onset of cataracts developing. In some instance high levels of air pollution can also be a factor in the development of cataracts.

Trauma to the eye can cause the development of cataracts and in some cases children through infection can develop cataracts and in small cases are born with congenital cataracts.

Cataracts like fog upset how we see and interpret visual information. Cataracts like running in fog changes how we navigate but shouldn’t limit us. With prescription correction seeing is possible with cataracts and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce cataract progression. Surgical advances in the area of cataracts mean the surgery is now a much more straightforward day procedure that really allows patients to see clearly like the fog lifting.