What is a cataract ?

Cataract develops as we age

Figure 1. Cataract develops as we age

A cataract

Figure 2. A cataract

Cataract surgery

Figure 3. Cataract surgery

An intraocular lens

Figure 4. An intraocular lens

A cataract is the most common procedure that we perform. Simply because virtually everyone will get a cataract as they age.
A cataract is not a “disease” or growth as a lot of people think. It is simply the gradual loss of clarity of the human lens.

WHAT IS A CATARACT

Within everyones eye there is a lens. This lens focuses an image onto the retina. As you would expect this lens needs to be clear in order to see well but as we age it starts to become opaque.

When this happens the lens is referred to as a cataract. Thus a lens is just a cloudy, murky lens and not a growth.

An analogy would be a window which is clean so that you can see through it. If the window becomes fogged up then it is not possible to see through it.

SYMPTOMS OF CATARACT

Initially there may no symptoms or very subtle ones.

The slow nature of the vision deterioration means that we can adapt to the poor vision and not realize that it is poor. Sometimes even dipping below safety for driving. Eventually however, vision drops to a point that symptoms develop. These may be glare, specially when driving at night.

Difficulty reading or difficulty watching television or seeing street signs. Invariably, a cataract left to progress will result in profound vision loss.

DEALING WITH A CATARACT

A cataract, being an opaque lens lens needs to be dealt with by removing it. There are many websites that you may have come across that promise to prevent or even dissolve cataracts.

These sites prey on the those who don’t understand what a cataract is. To date, other than surgical removal there is NO known method to solve the problem of cataract other than removal surgically and replacement with a new lens.

SURGERY FOR CATARACT

A cataract operation involves removal of the lens which has become cloudy and replacing it with an artificial lens. This is done in hospital and is a day procedure.

Modern cataract surgery is undergoing  radical changes and at present can be perform by the conventional operation or by the more modern femtosecond laser assisted laser cataract procedure. The laser cataract procedure will in time replace the older method

Which ever method is chosen, anasthesia is done with local (topical) anaesthetic. A general anesthetic is not required.

The local anesthetic involves using eyedrops NOT an injection. An injection is still by some ophthalmologists but it has been largely surpassed by topical anasthetic.

As most people are anxious, a mild sedative is usually given to relax the patient but not to put them to sleep.

The procedure takes on average 30 minutes and at the end the patient goes home.

Visual recovery is usually rapid and indeed it is not unusual for patients to experience excellent vision even on the day of surgery.

More commonly it can take days to weeks for full visual recovery.

The next section goes into greater detail on the measurements required prior to surgery, the surgery itself and the long term results.