Patient information: Cataract
What causes cataract? The exact cause of cataract is not known but in most cases it is part of the normal aging process. Conditions such as diabetes may cause cataracts to develop earlier in life. Rare
causes include injury, eye surgery, or prolonged use of
medications such as steroids. Childhood cataracts are uncommon.
What is cataract? Cataract
is an opacity or clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is
located just behind the pupil and focusses light on the back of
eye, where the retina forms an image of the outside world. When
the lens is opaque is degrades the quality of light entering the eye
and blurs the vision.
What happens if I have cataract? Opticians
may pick up a cataract before it causes any visual symptoms, but
with time most cataracts progress and eventually affect
vision. Patients notice that the clarity of their vision
reduces, that colours seem washed out, or bright lights such as
car headlamps cause glare.
Do I need surgery?
the cataract progresses to the
point that it prevents normal vision and affects your quality of
life, then that is the most appropriate time to consider surgery.
What does surgery involve? Cataract is one of the commonest eye diseases and most eye surgeons perform cataract surgery. Operations are
usually performed under local anaesthesia, meaning that you will be
awake, however an injection around the eye ensures that surgery is
not painful. Modern
cataract surgery uses an ultrasound (phakoemulsification) to remove the
abnormal lens material and the surgeon then inserts a clear
artificial lens (intraocular lens) into the eye. The wound is
usually closed without stitches. Surgery takes about 15-45 minutes
and is usually very
safe and effective; the risk of a serious complication is less than 2%.
What happens after surgery?
Most patients have surgery as a daycase and return home the same day.
The next day they remove the pad that covers the eye, and
start taking the eyedrops as prescribed. A plastic shield is
used to cover the eye at night for two weeks and a follow-up
appointment is arranged for 2-3 weeks after surgery. The eye may feel a
bit gritty for a few days or weeks, and the vision is often blurred in
the period shortly after surgery. Importantly, if you have moderate to
severe pain in the days or weeks after surgery you should contact the
hospital without delay, as although infection is rare, it needs to be
treated quickly. Most
patients visit their
optician for new spectacles at about 6 -8 weeks after surgery and it is
not until this time that the vision reaches its best. After
cataract surgery you should remain under annual review by your
optician as in some people a film develops over the lens implant
and this can be picked up by the optician. It requires
referrral back to hospital but is very easily treated with a laser.
Any further questions? The Royal College of
Ophthalmologists provides a useful patient information sheet that
may provide some answers (click here to see), but you should not be afraid to
ask the doctors or nurses if you have any questions.