Cataract refers to the clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is the part of the eye that normally helps focus light on the retina. As we get older, clouded areas can form on the lens, gradually reducing eyesight. You may notice some changes in vision, such as blurred vision, poor night vision, or lights appearing too bright. Cataract formation can be so gradual that it is hardly noticed, and only comes to light when noticed by an optician. For this reason, regular eye checks are very important.
If the cataract (clouding) is minor then you may not notice any changes in vision, but a dense cataract can severely affect eyesight and even lead to blindness. Surgery can replace the lens, though, in a commonly performed procedure.
What causes cataracts?
Risk factors for cataracts include increased age, certain diseases such as diabetes, smoking, and strong sunlight
How is cataract surgery performed?
If you have cataracts in both eyes, then a few months is usually given between operations to allow for healing. There are two main methods:
Phacoemulsification - this procedure usually takes 15-20 minutes and you will usually go home on the same day. Eye drops are put into the eye to dilate the pupil. Local anaesthetic is then used, which makes the eye go numb. The surgeon uses a microscope whilst making a tiny cut in the eye, and then inserts a special probe into the cut. This probe uses ultrasound waves to break up the cataract into small pieces that can then be removed. A new plastic lens is placed in the eye, and the small cut left to seal up by itself.
Manual extracapsular extraction - this is similar, but a larger cut is made. The lens is removed in one piece, and replaced by a new plastic one. The wound is then closed with tiny stitches. This procedure may require a short stay in hospital.
What happens after cataract surgery?
You can usually go home on the same day, but won't be able to drive. You may have antibiotic eyedrops and anti-inflammatory drops to help reduce swelling. Vision returns a few hours after surgery and improves over the next week or so.
What risks are involved with cataract surgery?
This is a very common operation that is usually straightforward and can have extremely beneficial outcomes. Possible minor side effects include itchiness of the eye, bruising and blurry vision; these usually settle after a few days.
Less than 2% of people will have serious complications. Rarely, the retina can become torn, resulting in a reduction of vision. The lens can also rarely become lost into the eye, needing an operation to retrieve it. Occasionally, part of the lens casing that is left in the eye can become cloudy over time; this can usually be simply treated with a laser.
Infection inside the eye can cause pain, discharge and blurred vision. You must contact the specialist straight away if you experience these symptoms as this form of infection can be very serious, and can even lead to blindness.
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Any procedure involving an incision can also result in unfavourable scarring, wound infection, or bleeding. This list of risks is not exhaustive, and you should discuss possible complications with your specialist. Whilst these risks will seem very worrysome, and indeed can be serious, it should also be borne in mind that many people have no postoperative problems whatsoever.
The information provided is for guidance only and you should discuss matters fully with your specialist before deciding if this is the right procedure for you. Please also read our disclaimer