What is a Cataract?

Cataracts are the result of the normally clear lens in your eye becoming cloudy. Cataracts happen to almost everyone as they age, however there are many treatments available and they can even result in improved quality of vision. Symptoms of cataracts include, cloudy or hazy vision. It may feel as if there is a film covering your eye, but repeated blinking does not make it go away. A full eye exam with an optometrist can determine if you have cataracts.

Symptoms of Cataracts
  • Is your vision blurry or foggy?
  • Do you have decreased night vision or see halos around lights?
  • Do colours appear dull or muted?
  • Are your glasses no longer working?
  • Does sunlight or other light seem overly bright or glaring?

At this time, no one knows how to prevent cataracts. You can protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that protect from UV rays and by seeking a diet rich in antioxidants. While these activities will not prevent cataracts, they can slow their growth.

Foods Rich in antioxidants include:

  • Small red beans
  • Blueberries
  • Pecans
  • Red berries like cranberries, strawberries and raspberries
  • Prunes
  • Apples - Red delicious, Granny Smith and Gala
  • Artichokes
  • Dark green veggies like kale and broccoli

In the early stages of a cataract, where vision is minimally affected, your doctor of optometry can sometimes prescribe new lenses for your glasses to give you the sharpest vision possible. When the cataracts start to interfere with your daily activities and glasses cannot improve this vision, your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataracts. Your doctor of optometry provides referrals to secondary specialists, such as ophthalmologists, for treatment of systemic diseases or eye surgery when necessary. Optometrists also co-manage the treatment of ocular diseases and pre- and post-surgical patient care with ophthalmologists.

Cataract surgery is a very safe and effective procedure to remove the cloudy crystalline lens from the eye and replace it with a clear implant. However, there are risks and limitations that need to be discussed with a Doctor of Optometry or ophthalmologist prior to undergoing the procedure. With improved technology, options now exist when it comes to selecting the proper lens implant for your eyes. When the normally clear lens within your eye becomes cloudy and opaque, it is called a cataract. Cataracts vary from extremely small areas of cloudiness to large opaque areas that cause a noticeable reduction in vision. Cataracts are a function of aging and are most often found in people over the age of 60, although cataracts are also occasionally found in younger people. If a child is born with a cataract it is referred to as a congenital cataract.

Some indications that a cataract may be forming include blurred or hazy vision that cannot be corrected by changing the glasses prescription, or the feeling of having a film over the eyes that does not go away with blinking. A temporary change in distance and/or near vision may also occur. An increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night, may be experienced. Cataracts develop without pain or redness.

A comprehensive eye examination by a Doctor of Optometry can determine if you have a cataract forming. Cataracts may develop slowly over many years or they may form rapidly in a matter of months. Some cataracts never progress to the point that they need to be removed. When a change in glasses can no longer provide functional vision and the cataract is starting to interfere with your daily activities, your doctor of optometry will arrange a consultation with a cataract surgeon.

During cataract surgery, the old cloudy lens is removed and an intraocular lens implants, inserted in your eye at the time of surgery, serve as a new lens. Sometimes the lens implant can give you good enough distance vision that you may not need glasses. Your near vision will still be blurred however, so you will likely still require glasses to read. Your optometrist will prescribe new lenses for your glasses about four weeks after surgery to maximize your distance and near vision.

Intraocular lenses (IOL) are a medical devices that is exchanged with the natural crystalline lens during cataract removal. There are many different types of intraocular lenses and selecting the appropriate one depends on your lifestyle and specific visual needs

Standard OHIP Covered Implant: for patients with little to no refractive error or want to continue wearing glasses after cataract surgery this is a good option.

IOL Master Biometry: Measures the length of the eye;from the front of the cornea to the back of the retina. Using this measurement will correct most of the spherical component (the nearsightedness or farsightedness of a patient) but not the astigmatism portion of their distance prescription. This is a great option for someone with little to no astigmatism but does have a distance refractive error.

Astigmatism Correction/Toric IOL: this is an implant that corrects for astigmatism. The lens is oriented in a specific direction inside the eye to correct the patient’s full distance prescription. This is ideal for a patient that has a large amount of astigmatism.

Multifocal Implant: this is an implant with concentric rings. Each ring within the implant contains either the distance, intermediate or reading prescription.

Other vision challenges that might be addressed during cataract surgery

If you have worn glasses or contacts all of your life you may a astigmatism. It is one of the most common forms of vision problems. About 1/3 of all contact lens or glasses wearers have an astigmatism.

What causes an Astigmatism?

With a healthy normal eye, the shape of the cornea is spherical. This allows light to pass through the lens without distortion. With an astigmatism, the cornea has more of an oblong shape, like an oval. This makes objects appear blurry or unfocussed.


Almost all levels of astigmatism can be optically corrected with properly prescribed and fitted eyeglasses or contact lenses. Laser surgery may be an option for appropriate cases.


There are many changes that happen to our eyes as we get older. Have you noticed that you have to hold a book or a magazine further away when reading? That you have a hard time seeing things up close without using your reading glasses? This is condition is called, presbyopia.

When your natural lens loses its ability to focus on object at different distances this is called presbyopia. In a healthy eye the lens flexes and changes shape to properly focus. As your eyes age, they lose this ability.

Treatment and Prevention

Presbyopia cannot be prevented as it is a natural part of the aging process, but you do have options around its treatment. To compensate for presbyopia, your optometrist can prescribe reading glasses, bifocals, trifocals, progressives or contact lenses. Through recent technology advancements, you can also have surgery to address this condition.

Your doctor of optometry will discuss your visual demands with you and perform other tests to determine the specific style of lenses that will allow you to see clearly.

Content provided by the Canadian Association of Optometrists