Cataracts – what are they and do I have to do something about them?

I often get asked this question in one form or another; cataract is one of the commonest conditions occurring in about 30-40% of the population in the developed world aged 70 and over. Cataracts come in a variety of shapes and forms but all are a result of changes in the transparency of the eyes own natural lens (crystalline lens) which develops opaque areas with aging. The effect this has on your vision greatly depends on the shape and size of the opacities within the lens. The changes in the lens start as early as aged 40 but generally only start to form large enough areas to disrupt vision later in life.

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Am I entitled to a free NHS eye test?

You qualify for a free NHS-funded sight test if:

  • you’re aged under 16
  • you’re aged 16, 17 or 18 and are in full-time education
  • you’re aged 60 or over
  • you’re registered as partially sighted (sight impaired) or blind (severely sight impaired)
  • you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • you’re 40 or over and your mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter has been diagnosed with glaucoma
  • you’ve been advised by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) that you’re at risk of glaucoma
  • you’re a prisoner on leave from prison
  • you’re eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher – your optometrist (optician) can advise you about your entitlement

You’re also entitled to a free NHS sight test if you:

  • receive Income Support
  • receive Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (not contribution-based)
  • receive Pension Credit Guarantee Credit
  • receive income-based Employment and Support Allowance
  • are awarded Universal Credit and meet the criteria on earnings limit
  • are entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • you are named on a valid NHS certificate for full help with health costs (HC2)
  • People named on an NHS certificate for partial help with health costs (HC3) may also get help.

Optometrists recommend that most people should get their eyes tested every two years. However, in some circumstances, they may recommend more frequent NHS sight tests. For example, if you are a child and wear glasses
have diabetes are aged 40 or over and have a family history of glaucoma
are aged 70 or over.