There is really encouraging news coming out of Edinburgh’s very own Heriot Watt University today. Scientists there have developed a new way to diagnose cataracts, which on the face of it may not seem that exciting. However, it could make a real difference in diagnosis and managing the early stages of the condition. The technology will allow clinicians to monitor the cataract before it appears, allowing early preventative measures to be put in place before the cataract forms so before symptoms are apparent.
The hope is that this LED technology will help limit the symptoms. Prof Rory Duncan from Heriot-Watt University said: ‘While this stage is not a cure for cataracts, we believe it could have wide-reaching benefits such as limiting the symptoms experienced by our increasingly-ageing population and those living with diabetes. It could significantly diminish the pressure on our health service.”
At the moment there is no objective way to diagnose or measure cataracts, creating a very grey area. Where does natural aging of the lens end and the ‘disease’ of cataracts begin? I usually suggest it’s when visual symptoms occur, for example when patient notices blur or glare. However it is often the case that we can see a cataract, yet the patient still has no symptoms. Our scanners are very effective at seeing the severity of a cataract, however having something objective would be very useful for monitoring and diagnosing even earlier.
In addition, this technological development could help with waiting lists. In some postcodes patients are denied cataract surgery as it is ‘not ripe enough’ and others you would be listed for surgery with cataracts at that same level. This is clearly unfair and objective. Objective measurements would be helpful. This would allow optometrists to use the same measure and the surgical case be based upon a clear measure rather than subjectivity as can be the case.
We hope that this becomes widely available and is successful in practice. In the meantime, we continue to encourage patients to ensure they see their optometrist if they have any sign of cataracts and we will advise the best course of treatment accordingly.