What is a cataract?
A cataract is an opacity within the lens of the eye. At birth the lens is usually clear like glass but in cataract it's no longer perfectly transparent. There are different types of cataracts including nuclear, cortical and posterior subcapsular cataract. Cataracts cause blurred vision, glare and sometimes double vision. They usually progress very slowly and only need treatment if the visual symptoms are troubling.
Age is the most common cause and by 60 about half of all adults have some cataract formation. They may develop as a result of injury or eye disease and can also be associated with medical conditions such as diabetes. Both smoking and sunlight increase the risk of cataracts. Cataracts are not caused by reading in a bad light or eye strain.
Symptoms include glare and sensitivity to bright lights and as the condition progresses haloes may appear around lights. Patients also notice their vision becomes more blurred, hazy and foggy and colours can often become duller and darker.
Surgery is the only effective treatment of cataracts. Treatment may be delayed if you are not experiencing any loss of vision or if it is only slightly affected.
Your ophthalmologist will recommend surgery when you are having difficulty seeing well enough to carry out your normal daily activities, such as watching TV, driving or reading or when your personal safety is at risk.
What is involved in cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is performed in a hospital or day surgery unit as a day procedure. The operation is performed with the help of an anaesthetist who administers a short acting intravenous sedative, followed by a local anaesthetic around the eye. You need to lie still for around 15 minutes. The surgery requires 2 or 3 small incisions through the cornea and , the lens of your eye is removed by a process known as a phacoemulsification, which emulsifies and removes the lens by aspiration. An artificial lens is inserted in the same location that the cataractous lens used to be, that is behind the iris and pupil. This lens lasts forever. Very rarely it may need to be removed.