Cataracts is a classic case of a very small thing making a very big difference. The artist Monet famously developed them in later life, and it's even known to have affected the vibrancy of colours he used in his paintings.

And while we’re not all budding artists, we still have things in our lives we’d be sad not to see again, like the faces of our friends and family. Luckily, cataracts are easily treated, and with our health insurance, your vision definitely isn’t out of sight or mind.

What are cataracts and what causes them?

Cataracts are a normal part of getting older, usually developing from age 40 onwards. And although they don’t affect everyone, they’re very common. Around 400,000 people undergo cataract surgery each year in England [1]Footnote 1.

They’re caused by a natural breakdown of proteins in the eye, which then clump together and cloud your sight. If your cataracts aren’t too bad, you may be able to temporarily improve your vision by getting stronger glasses or with brighter lighting. But as your eyesight worsens, you may want to seek further treatment.

Know your cataracts

There are three main types:

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts (nuclear sclerosis)

Cortical cataracts

Posterior subcapsular cataracts

This type of cataract starts developing at the centre of the lens. It’s the most common type of cataract and usually develops slowly over several years, so you may not realise you have one immediately. Smokers have an increased chance of getting them.

In contrast to nuclear sclerosis, cortical cataracts begin from the outside edge of the eye lens and then progress towards the centre. If you’re diabetic, you have an increased risk of getting a cortical cataract. They tend to develop faster than nuclear sclerotic cataracts.

Developing towards the back of the lens, because of where they’re situated, even a small cataract can greatly impact your vision. They also develop quickly, faster than both cortical and nuclear sclerotic cataracts, meaning you’re likely to know you have one sooner rather than later.

Although most cataracts develop with age, it’s also possible to be born with them. These are known as congenital cataracts.

All cataracts can be unilateral, meaning they affect one eye, or bilateral, where they develop on both eyes.

Sight related symptoms

If you start experiencing problems with your vision, a visit to the optician should be your top priority. Luckily, cataracts don’t need to be caught early for treatment to be effective, but it’s always a good idea to get any issues with your eyesight checked out in case it’s something more serious.

Here are a few tell-tale cataract symptoms to look out for:

  • Everything appears misty, like looking through frosted glass. Reading might become difficult.
  • Bright lights may be dazzling and can make driving at night challenging because of the glare from headlights.
  • Colours are dull or faded, although you may not notice this gradual change straight away.

Counteract your cataracts

Most of the time, cataracts develop naturally, but by protecting your eyes from the sun and taking good care of your general health, you can reduce your chances of getting cataracts or delay their growth. Some other factors that can increase your risk of getting them are:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Eye injuries
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Family history of cataracts

A clear path to recovery

As the famous song goes, I can see clearly now I’ve had an extracapsular cataract extraction. Ok, maybe that’s not quite how it goes. But for most people, cataracts can be safely and effectively treated with a simple surgical procedure, also called lens replacement surgery. If you have cataracts in both eyes, they’ll usually be treated one at a time.

The operation means it’s out with your old cloudy lens, and in with a new, artificial one. Your surgeon will make a small cut in your eye to remove and replace the lens. The procedure only takes around half an hour and can be carried out using local anaesthetic. You’ll usually be in and out of hospital in a day, and fully recovered in four to six weeks.

The risks associated with this type or surgery are very low, and most people’s vision will be restored to full clarity without any of the fogginess caused by the cataract.

With Healthier Solutions, it’s easy as A, B, see

Cataract surgery is covered as standard under our health insurance terms (PDF 550KB) if you're eligible. Once your GP has referred you, and if you’re eligible for treatment, you’ll get expert support and a choice of private hospitals. So it won’t be long until you can re-read that favourite book, start up the slightly fiddly craft project you’d put to one side, or drive to your friend’s house for a coffee and natter.

Making a claim

With our health insurance, you’re only ever three steps away from making a claim and starting your treatment journey.

  1. Ask your GP for an open referral
    This can be from your usual GP, or you can use our Digital GP app. They’ll outline the treatment or investigations you need.
  2. Contact our claims team
    You can do this online through MyAviva or call us on 0800 068 5821 [2]Footnote 2. We’ll ask some questions about your symptoms and guide you through your claim. If it’s approved, you’ll be able to start private treatment.
  3. Picking up the bills
    We’ll settle everything with your approved healthcare provider, meaning you can focus on your recovery without worrying about the fees.

Protect your vision

Find out how our health insurance could help you see clearly again.

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