12 common cataracts myths (and facts)
It’s no secret that our bodies inevitably will change as we age. In particular, our eyes are the first to show signs of ageing. Some of these deterioration are external and obvious, such as wrinkles, crow’s feet, loose and saggy skin, dark circles.
However, there are also other more serious changes to our eyes that creep unto us as we step into our 40s, 50s and 60s. Our eyes start losing their ability to focus so well, especially on near objects – a condition known as presbyopia. Eventually, the natural lens in our eyes start to turn cloudy with ageing, causing us to lose our vision gradually – and this means we have developed cataracts.
Blurry vision, double vision, difficulty in seeing at night, glares and halos around bright lights: these are some typical symptoms and tell-tale signs that you may have developed a cataract. If you experience any of these, consult an eye specialist.
June is National Cataracts Awareness Month and so we spoke to 50 Singaporeans, aged 25 to 30 years old – and 65% of them believed that they will not develop cataracts. It’s a classic out of sight, out of mind thing.
Let’s find out what are the 12 common cataract myths (and the real truths behind them!).
Myth #1: I will NOT get cataracts if I take relatively good care of my eyes.
Truth: everybody gets cataracts at certain point of our lives as part of our ageing process. In other words, no one is spared from this – even if you take the best care of your eyes.
That being said, taking good care of your eyes can help stave cataracts away for a longer time. Some people face early cataracts at the age of 40s to 50s, and almost all will have cataracts in their 60s and beyond. In Singapore, cataracts affect 95% of the population over 70 years old. 
Myth #2: If I have cataracts, I will become blind.
It’s true that cataracts, if left untreated, can cause you to lose your vision gradually. In fact, cataracts is the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
But it’s also easy to treat cataracts once you are diagnosed with it. Even if you have lost almost all your vision in an advanced stage of cataracts, you can still restore your sight by undergoing cataract surgery.
In other words, cataracts won’t really render you blind unless you choose to not treat it.
Modern cataract surgery comprises of these two surgical steps:
- Phacoemulsification: The most common cataract surgery. The process by which an ultrasonic device is used to emulsify the cataract and suck the cataract out.
- An artificial Intra-Ocular Lens (IOL) will then be implanted to replace your natural, cloudy cataract lens, allowing you to see clearly again. 
It’s actually one of the most common eye operations in the world. It’s considered a standard procedure – all eye doctors in Singapore have gone through training and are qualified to perform cataract operations.
Myth #3: I will only get cataracts when I’m like, 60 years old.
While this is generally the case for most people, the fact is that you can develop a cataract at any age.
It is correct to associate cataracts with ageing because our eye’s natural lens becomes opaque and cloudy when we become older. But there are also other risk factors besides age.
Unbeknownst to many, over-exposure to UV light, history of trauma to the eye, previous eye surgeries, alcohol abuse are some of the other culprits which can cause you to develop cataracts at an early age.  That’s why it’s really important to wear your sunglasses when you’re outdoors in direct sunlight, other than you know, fashion purposes. All the more reasons to whip out your shades and get stylish with ‘em. Remember to only purchase shades with UV protection though.
Medical conditions such as diabetes also increases your risk factor for cataracts. It’s found that diabetics have a 60% higher risk of developing cataracts. It also makes you at risk of getting other eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy. As you approach your 30s and 40s, watch your sugar intake and try to eat clean regularly!
Myth #4: I can see if my eyes are cloudy and therefore diagnose my own cataracts.
This is untrue because in the early stages of cataracts, it will be barely visible via the naked eye.  The only symptom you may experience in the early stage is just a mild blurriness of vision, with no pain associated with it. As the symptom is very mild, it can be easily dismissed as you needing a new pair of glasses.
It is only when your cataracts are in the advanced stage (fully formed) that you will begin to notice your iris (the black/brown colored part of your eye) becoming milky or hazy, if you look hard enough in the mirror!
Therefore it’s still essential to go for regular eye check-ups, especially if you’re above 40 years old, so that any eye diseases can be diagnosed immediately by your ophthalmologist.
Myth #5: Frequent bout of headaches means I’m getting cataracts.
While it’s true that you can experience headaches due to eye strain as your vision deteriorates, headaches in general can mean absolutely anything! It could be due to stress, fatigue, infection or inflammation of your blood vessels in the brain, or worse, a tumor.
However, if you experience headaches coupled with poor and blurry vision, there is a chance that you have cataracts so do make a visit to an eye doctor. Headaches are usually only when your cataract is very severe and your vision has already deteriorated to quite a poor state. 
Myth #6: I can cure cataracts on my own with store-bought eyedrops.
This one’s the worse – I personally know of someone who has bought eye drops thinking it could cure her cataracts. There have indeed been numerous eye drops in the market touted to be able to “cure cataracts” or “prevent cataracts”.
The truth couldn’t be further from it.
To date, no eye drops or medications have been proven to prevent or cure cataract formation. The only safe and proven method to treat cataracts is via a cataract surgery by a qualified ophthalmologist, i.e. phacoemulsification procedure. 
Myth #7: I can cure my cataract by going for LASIK surgery.
A very common misconception, but very false! While LASIK does help to improve your vision and correct short and long-sightedness, it cannot be used to reverse a cataract formation.
This is because LASIK works by using a laser to sculpt the curvature of your cornea – the transparent, topmost layer of your eyes – and this changes the way light bends into your eye, correcting your refractive errors.
Cataracts, on the other hand, involve your natural lens turning cloudy. As you can see from the anatomy of the eye, our lenses are positioned deep behind the cornea and the iris. In other words, changing your cornea curvature can correct your refractive errors but will not help your vision if your cloudy lens are the reason you are seeing poorly.
The only way to treat cataracts is to replace your cloudy lens with an artificial lens equipped with a suitable eye prescription that also corrects your refractive errors if any.
Myth #8: I can only go for cataract surgery when my cataracts are “ripe”
This myth has propagated for a long time. While it may be true in ancient times, with current technology, it doesn’t hold water any longer.
On the contrary, waiting till your cataract is fully developed (hard and stubborn) makes your surgery more difficult and complicated, because your cataract will be harder to “emulsify” during phacoemulsification.
As long as your surgeon diagnoses you with cataracts, you can safely go for cataract surgery to get it removed – be it mild or severe.  If dragged on for too long, the poor quality of vision you experience can start to affect your daily activities (such as not being able to see the bus number clearly while commuting, sports or other hobbies). When that happens, it would be wise not to delay the cataract surgery any further.
Myth #9: I do not need my glasses after cataract surgery.
This will depend on the type of artificial lens you would be implanting into your eyes. The two different choices are either monofocal or multifocal IOL lens. 
- Monofocal IOL lens help you to see clearly at only a particular distance. In most cases, patients can see distant objects clearly, but they would still require reading glasses for near-work.
- On the other hand, multifocal IOL lens can help you to see clearly at multiple distance points. This means that some patients would not need their glasses at all – not even reading glasses!
As wonderful as it may sound, multifocal lens are not suitable for everyone. You would need to get your doctor’s advice to check your suitability, and a trial lens test may be in order so that you can experience the vision quality that you can expect post-op.
Myth #10: Cataract surgery is very dangerous.
Cataracts surgery have come a long way thanks to technological advances. Now, it is easily one of the most common medical procedures performed in the world with high success rates. Especially in Singapore, cataract surgery is safe, advanced and generally considered a “low risk” surgery compared to much more severe procedures like knee surgery or even hand surgery.
It is a common, outpatient day surgery which takes around 30 mins and you’ll be able to go home to rest after that. In other words, there is no need to be warded at all. It may even be completed in a shorter time if performed by a very skilled and experienced doctor. Just use the prescribed eye drops and they will help put the risk of infection post-op at its minimal.
Myth #11: I will take many months to recover from my cataract surgery.
You’ll be glad to hear that the answer is not really! After a cataract operation, you will be able to go about your daily activities as fast as the very next day.
Just make sure you get plenty of shut-eye and avoid strenuous activities and dusty places for up to 3 weeks. Also, do NOT go swimming as the waters may not be clean and will leave you exposed to an eye infection.
During the first five days, your eyes may feel tired so do try to stay home and avoid straining your eyes (yes, going out shopping for the entire day will strain your eyes too!) Full recovery will take anything from six to eight weeks. 
Myth #12: My cataract will come back even after surgery.
This is not true. Once your cataracts have been removed and your cloudy natural lens replaced with an artificial IOL lens, they cannot come back. In other words, cataract surgery is a permanent solution.
However, do note that a rare minority of cataracts patients may complain of blurry vision years after they have had their cataracts surgically removed. Don’t worry, this is not the result of cataracts re-forming! It is likely that a cloudy film formed at the back of your newly implanted IOL. The solution? A simple and painless 5-minute YAG-Argon laser procedure to clear that film and restore your vision once more.
Now, which of these 12 cataracts myths did you believe in? We hope that this article helped bust some myths that you thought were true all your life!
If you suspect you’ve got a cataract developing, get in touch to get eye specialist recommendations for cataract surgery. After all, if you are experiencing any eye problems that are keeping you from living your best life, it’s well worth looking into – don’t procrastinate!
References: Chua W. H. (2018). 5 Important Facts about Cataracts, from https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/cataracts-facts  Thompson V.. Cataract Surgery: Everything you need to know, from https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/cataract-surgery.htm  National Eye Institute (2019). At a glance: Cataracts, from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/cataracts  Essilor. Cataracts: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention, from https://www.essilor.com.sg/vision/eye-problems/cataracts  Your Sight Matters. Could your headaches be due to eye problems?, from https://yoursightmatters.com/could-your-headaches-be-due-to-eye-problems/  Bedinghaus T. (2020). Eye Drops for Cataracts, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/eye-drops-for-cataracts-3421711  Providence Eye & Laser Specialists. What LASIK Can and Cannot Correct, from https://providenceeye.com/blog/what-lasik-cannot-correct  Turner T. D. When Should an Individual Have Cataract Surgery?, from https://visionaware.org/your-eye-condition/cataracts/considering-cataract-surgery/125/#:~:text=A%20cataract%20does%20not%20have,at%20any%20stage%20of%20development.  American Optometric Association. Cataract Surgery, from https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/cataract/cataract-surgery