Inside everyone’s eye is a lens, which sits behind the coloured iris and the cornea. The lens is clear and focuses light on the retina at the back of the eye, much like the lens of a camera. When the lens of the eye starts to become cloudy and prevents clear focusing, this is known as a cataract.
Most people experience blurred vision, either when reading or looking into the distance. It may happen quickly, or slowly over time. It is common for some people to feel their glasses are not helping enough anymore, or a recent update in spectacles didn’t improve the vision as much as expected. Glare when driving, especially at night, can be another symptom of cataract.
In most cases it is due to the ageing process, and the effect of sunlight on the eye. However some people can have changes at a younger age due to other causes.
Cataract surgery should be considered when blurred vision is interfering with daily activities, and glasses are no longer helping. The aim of the surgery is to improve vision and prevent further deterioration.
A day case procedure is performed in a sterile operating theatre with light sedation and local anaesthetic. The surgery is performed by making very small incisions in the eye and gently ‘breaking up’ the cataract with a sophisticated ultrasound device (phacoemulsification) and removing the lens. A new, perfectly clear man-made lens (intraocular lens) is placed inside the eye to allow the eye to focus correctly. The eye heals very well after cataract surgery and the new lens remains permanently in place.
Often by the day after surgery patients are feeling very comfortable and have started to resume most of their normal routine.
- Panadol may be the strongest pain relief needed.
- The eye may have some irritation and watering in the first 24 hours.
- Most patients can resume driving within a few days after consultation with their surgeon.
- Heavy exercise, pool and ocean swimming, bending over and straining should be avoided for two weeks.
- Gentle exercise, walking and gardening can be resumed immediately.
The strength of the new implanted lens can be calculated to minimise the need for glasses, but there are limitations. Most patients will require glasses to read or do close work after cataract surgery. There are other options that can be considered to reduce the need for glasses after cataract surgery (multifocal intraocular lens implants or monovision), but these can affect the quality of vision. This needs to be assessed individually with each patient before surgery
Most patients will experience some transient blurred vision, eye watering, eye irritation and glare for a short period following the surgery. It is uncommon for these symptoms to persist. Very rare risks include infection, and retinal bleeding or damage, which may require further surgery or treatment. It is extremely rare to suffer loss of vision or the eye as a result of cataract surgery.