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Everything you need to know about cataracts


It’s no secret that, as we age, our eyes deteriorate. Over 54% of people over 60 years of age are…

It’s no secret that, as we age, our eyes deteriorate. Over 54% of people over 60 years of age are estimated to have cataracts. Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed ophthalmic surgical procedure worldwide. With NHS waiting lists rising in the last couple of years, it’s important to act early to reduce the impact cataracts can have on your life. Here, we discuss everything from symptoms to look out for to treatment and recovery. Here’s everything you need to know.

Starting with the basics, what are cataracts?

Inside the eye is a small lens, similar to a camera lens. This lens sits just behind your coloured iris. The lens focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye for clear vision. As we age, the lens will naturally start to lose transparency and become cloudy, this is called a cataract. Most cataracts are related to age and as they develop slowly, some patients may not be aware they are developing cataracts until a routine eye test with an optician identifies them. Cataracts are the most common cause of treatable blindness in the world.

How can you tell if you have a cataract?

Due to their gradual development, your cataracts may have little effect on your vision at first. Over time the vision can become blurred and you may find that it does not even improve with new glasses. The longer the cataract is left to develop, the more severely it can affect your vision. Book an appointment with your local Optometrist if you experience symptoms such as cloudiness or mistiness, faded or washed-out colours, a dazzling glare from bright light and light sensitivity, repeated changes in spectacle prescription, or double vision.

Can anyone develop cataracts? What are the risk factors?

Whilst most cataracts are age-related, they aren’t just in the over 60’s. Risk factors include genetic causes, infections, smoking, exposure to UV light over prolonged periods, medications such as steroids, medical conditions such as diabetes and a history of previous eye surgery.

What is the best way to get a diagnosis?

They can usually be picked up by a normal eye test, which is why it is important to visit your local Optometrist regularly (once every two years or more frequently if your optician recommends it). During your eye exam, your Optometrist will carry out several tests, and if they suspect you have cataracts they can make a referral to an eye specialist (Ophthalmologist) who can confirm the diagnosis and your plan of treatment.

Do cataracts always need treatment?

Cataracts don’t always require treatment after initial diagnosis, especially if they aren’t bothering you. Initially, a simple change of prescription may restore acceptable vision. The cataracts will however progressively get worse and will need treatment to restore your vision.

Is surgery the only option for getting rid of cataracts?

Yes, surgery is the only way to remove your cataracts. This is a very short operation, typically it takes less than 15 minutes per eye. It is a safe, effective and low-risk procedure. The procedure is performed under local anaesthetic and is pain free – you will feel some pressure and fluids around the eye but should not feel any pain or discomfort. Sedation is available if you’re anxious.

What can you expect from the surgery itself?

During cataract surgery, the cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant (intraocular lens, IOL). The surgeon will make a tiny incision to open the outer lining of the natural lens to remove the cloudy contents using an ultrasound machine and lots of water. Your surgeon will then place a new artificial lens inside the eye, allowing you to see more clearly.

Is it worth going private?

When cataract surgery is performed on the NHS, patients are treated with a standard intraocular lens (IOL), a synthetic lens which aims to improve the clarity of vision, but patients may need to wear reading and/or long-distance glasses even if they weren’t previously worn. Patients treated privately have the option to ‘upgrade’ to a premium IOL, which is tailored specifically to your personal vision requirements, which can mean that you can also be free of glasses or contact lenses as well as cataracts all in one procedure.

Are there any risks and downtime to be aware of?

Cataract is a low-risk surgery but, as with any surgery, it is not zero risk. The risk of eyesight being worse in the operated eye is about 1 in 100 and of a serious complication leading to severe loss of vision (such as infection) is about 1 in 1000. Your Consultant Ophthalmologist will discuss all risks with you prior to surgery.

Overall, there is no major downtime following surgery. You can expect your vision after surgery to be blurry with a slight glare that will settle. It is normal for eyes to feel a little gritty for a few days, drops will be given to ensure your eyes are as comfortable as possible in the days following surgery. It is important you avoid touching or rubbing your eyes after surgery for a few days to a week, sunglasses will help with sensitivity.

Finally, is there a risk of cataracts returning?

No, cataracts will not return. It is worth noting that about one in ten may need a very simple laser treatment, YAG laser capsulotomy. This can be necessary after cataract surgery if there is a misting of the capsule that holds the new lens implanted in position. This treatment is painless and generally takes just 10-15 minutes.

Considering cataract surgery? Here’s why we believe you should choose MY Eye Clinic…

  • A kind, compassionate and reassuring team. We aim to immediately put you at ease and are happy to discuss any questions you may have about your procedure.
  • Expert consultant assessment of cataracts. If you have not previously had refractive surgery, the initial consultation appointment is free!
  • Provision of Toric lenses which correct astigmatism and Multifocal lenses can offer corrected vision for distance, intermediate and near vision.
  • A full refractive service, Site for Eyes, which offers laser eye surgery (LASIK/LASEK), clear lens extractions and cataract surgery with special lenses (toric/ multifocal).
  • A new operating theatre suite which is fully equipped with the latest generation cataract machine (Alcon Centurion Gold), an excellent operating microscope and a new (DORC Nexus) combined cataract and vitrectomy machine.
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