Cataracts no longer an ‘old age’ condition

A leading eye hospital group highlights the trend for Britons to have cataract surgery at a younger age than ever before.

A new study by Optegra Eye Health Carei suggests that a third of British adults (33 per cent) know someone who has been diagnosed and treated for cataracts in their 50s or 60s, an eye condition which has historically mainly been treated in the over 70s.

Leading ophthalmic surgeon, Anne Gilvarry, at Optegra Eye Health Care states: “Ten years ago, if I had seen someone in their 50s who had cataracts, I would have been really concerned, ordering extra scans and blood tests. But now, I regularly see such patients!”

In fact almost a fifth (16 per cent) of enquiries to Optegra regarding cataract treatment are now from people in their 40s and 50s.  

Although further research is indicated, it is believed that causes may be the impact of UV, trauma, diabetes, other eye problems such as myopia (short sightedness) and vitrectomy surgery. In addition adults today are less tolerant of imperfections and loss of function, so are more likely to source treatment earlier in life.

Academic studiesii reveal that the majority (88 per cent) of people with treatable visual impairment from cataract were not in touch with eye health services, capturing a high level of potentially unmet need.  It is estimated that 225,000 new cases of visually impairing cataract should be expected each year.

Anne Gilvarry states: “Such a high number of people have consultations for vision correction or to check their general eye health and are surprised to realise they have cataracts.  The symptoms can be gradual, and so sometimes it is only when people are treated that they realise how cloudy or blurred their vision had become. Yet one in three of us is likely to develop cataractsiii so we are calling on people to really be aware of the symptoms and to have their eyes checked regularly.”

The new study by Optegra Eye Health Care revealed low awareness of symptoms:
  • 30 per cent do not realise cataracts can cause cloudy vision
  • Almost half (48 per cent) do not know blurred vision is a symptom
  • And just a third (33 per cent) realise cataracts can cause poor vision looking at bright lights
  • Only 17% were able to identify double vision as a symptom
  • And 12 per cent of British adults did not know any of the symptoms of cataracts


The new research also shows that the average age UK adults think people get diagnosed with cataract is just 50 years and 2 months.

Patient Cliff Gulbis from Hertfordshire is one such person.  Aged just 51 he was struggling to see, and as his job is a fingerprint expert, perfect vision was essential.  He was surprised to learn at his annual eye examination that his vision problems were caused by the onset of cataracts.

He says: “I need clear, sharp vision for my job as a fingerprint expert as I compare minute details within sets of fingerprints to help identify criminals or eliminate people as suspects from crime scenes.  

“But I have been battling with impaired vision which meant relying on four pairs of glasses, and having to constantly switch between pairs.

“Once I found out I also had the start of cataract and discovered that ClarivuTM permanent lens replacement could hopefully free me of glasses as well as the cataract I didn’t hesitate!”

Optegra Medical Director, and leading ophthalmic surgeon, Mr Robert Morris concludes: “Most people have heard of cataracts but there seems to be some confusion around its symptoms – which can include cloudy vision, glare from lights, particularly noticeable at night-time, and even double vision.  Our study shows that 40 per cent of British adults worry about the impact of this common condition and so it is vital that people with these symptoms have their eyes tested – whatever their age – as they may find they have cataracts despite being younger than one would expect.”

Optegra, which has six specialist eye hospitals in the UK, offers the latest femtosecond laser treatment for cataract; equipment which has made the procedure even more accurate than ever before.

The optical imaging system produces a high resolution, 3-D model of the eye, allowing the surgeon to tailor treatment to the individual patient. Optegra is the only UK hospital group to have invested in this technology in all its UK hospitals, allowing the specialist eye hospitals to offer the latest cataract treatment.

Patient Sue Dickinson was the first to have femtosecond laser treatment with Optegra and she says: “For me the decision was simple.  Optegra offered me the latest technology for my procedure which gave me reassurance. I know that I would certainly need to have my cataracts operated on at some point, so why not do it now and enjoy the benefits of better vision for years to come?  I did not realise anyone could see as well as this! I can now read the bottom line of the smallest eye chart.”

In addition, Optegra cataract patients have the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ from a monofocal lens to a multifocal, which may decrease their dependence on glasses or contact lenses.

Cataract facts

  • Cataract is the most common cause of treatable blindness and estimates suggest that cataract accounted for around 20 million cases of blindness worldwide in 2010iv
  • Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure, with over 330,000 cases performed each year in England alonev
  •  Cataract is the third most common procedure carried out in hospital by the NHS, with only live births and cardiac treatments accounting for more spellsvi 
  • A UK study which randomly sampled 1547 people 65 years of age and older for visually impairing cataract in one or both eyes found visually impairing cataracts in 30% of people older than 65 years of age (a further 10% had cataract surgery in one or both eyes)vii 
References:
i Consumer research carried out April 2015 for Optegra by Censuswide; online research with 2,231 British adults aged 16 years and above.
ii Minassian DC, Reidy A, Desai P, Farrow S, Vafidis G, Minassian A. The deficit in cataract surgery in
England and Wales and the escalating problem of visual impairment: epidemiological modelling of the population dynamics of cataract. Br J Ophthalmol 2000;84:4-8.
iii As cited in the RCOphth document ‘Cataract surgery guidelines’ Sept 2010
iv World Heath Organization 2010
v Royal College of Ophthalmologists 2010
vi RNIB
vii Reidy et al, 1998

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