Eye Information - Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens that can cause vision problems. In the early stages, stronger lighting and glasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts. At a certain point, however, surgery may be needed to improve vision. Today, cataract surgery is safe and very effective.

What Is The Lens?

The lens is the part of the eye that helps focus light on the retina. The retina is the eye's light sensitive layer that sends visual signals to the brain. In an eye with no cataract, light passes through the lens and gets focused on the retina. To help produce a sharp image, the lens must remain clear.

What Causes Cataracts?

Cataracts can form at any age. The lens is made mostly of water and protein. The protein is arranged to let light pass through and focus on the retina. Sometimes protein clumps together, and clouds small parts of the lens, blocking light from reaching the retina and interfering with vision. This is a cataract.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of a cataract are:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Problems with light. These can include headlights that seem too bright at night; glare from lamps or very bright sunlight; or a halo around lights
  • Colours that seem faded
  • Poor night vision
  • Double or multiple vision (this symptom often goes away as the cataract grows)
  • Frequent changes in your glasses or contact lenses

What can be done to help?

Surgery is the only effective treatment. This involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a substitute lens. This cannot be performed by laser, although laser treatment is sometimes needed afterwards.

What is a lens implant?

When the cloudy lens is removed surgically, it is replaced by a clear plastic lens, which is inserted into the eye, so that the eye can focus properly.

Occasionally a doctor decides that someone is not suitable for an implant. There are three ways of substituting the lens:

  • Cataract glasses
  • Contact lenses
  • Lens implantation

When should I have the operation?

If visual impairment interferes with your ability to read, work or do the things you enjoy, then you probably want to consider surgery although there maybe a waiting list. For most people, it is possible to have the operation and go home the same day as long as someone is at home to care for you.

What happens in the Operation?

When you go into hospital you will be given eye drops to enlarge the pupil and something to help you relax.

The operation usually lasts less than one hour and is performed with a local anaesthetic, which numbs the area being operated on. You will be wide-awake but feel nothing. The specialist usually explains what is going on and he has other medical staff to ensure you are all right.

Sometimes your doctor may decide to give a general anaesthetic. This means that you are completely unconscious and will sleep through the operation.

The operation is performed with the aid of a microscope which in inserted through a small incision on the side of the cornea. The surgeon removes the opaque lens, inserts the plastic lens and closes it with some small stitches at the end of the operation.

After the Operation

After the operation, a patch will be placed over the eye and you will rest for a while, then allowed to go home.

You will notice an improvement within a few days, but complete healing may take months. It is a good idea to have some help at home if you can, especially if you find it difficult to put your eye drops in. You will need to take it easy for a couple of weeks so that your eye can heal.

  • Avoid rubbing your eye; wear an eye shield if you are a restless sleeper
  • Don't do any heavy lifting, and avoid strenuous exercise and swimming
  • You can do light housework or cooking, but try to get some help if you can
  • You don't need to stay indoors but take care if it is windy, in case anything blows into your eye
  • Wash your hair leaning backwards rather than forwards
  • Avoid eye make-up for six weeks
  • Avoid driving until your surgeon tells you it is safe
  • New glasses are usually prescribed four to eight weeks after the operation
  • How long you are off work will depend on the job you do. Ask your eye specialist about this