Cataracts develop as a completely normal part of aging, usually developing slowly over time and even at a different rate for each eye. The lens of the eye is normally transparent; if a “cloudy” area begins to develop in this lens, this is called a cataract. As a result of this “cloudy” area vision becomes increasingly poor as the amount of light able to pass through the lens is decreased and scattered.
Years may pass by before the cataract actually interferes with a person’s sight enough for them to seek professional advice. By the age of 70 almost everybody will have some degree of cataract formation in the eye. There are other causes of cataracts in addition to old age, such as diabetes, various eye conditions/diseases, eye injury or excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.
Early symptoms of cataracts can include:
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Haloes may appear around lights (as cataracts continue to worsen)
- Blurred/hazy/foggy vision
The only treatment for cataracts is cataract surgery; the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a permanently implanted artificial lens (this is called an intraocular lens, IOL). This artificial lens is a transparent plastic disc that is shaped similar to the natural lens. There are various types of IOL available to suit individual patients.
Once your lens becomes cloudy it will never recover former normal clarity. If you choose not to have cataract surgery your symptoms and condition may continue to worsen over time. Before making the decision to have cataract surgery please consult with your ophthalmologist so you fully understand the risks, benefits and limitations of surgery. Your ophthalmologist will need to be aware of your medical history before proceeding with cataract surgery as some health problems may interfere with surgery.
Types of Cataract Surgery
Cataract surgery is typically performed under a local anaesthesia and light sedation for the comfort of the patient. There are several techniques/types of cataract surgery:
- Phacoemulsification – your surgeon will make a small incision near the border of the cornea and sclera, or in the cornea. A small probe is then inserted into the lens capsule in order to divide the lens into pieces, and then the pieces are gently suctioned away before the IOL is inserted.
- Extracapsular cataract extraction – your surgeon will make a 10-12mm incision near the border of the cornea and sclera, or in the cornea. The lens is removed from the lens capsule and the IOL is then inserted.
- Intracapsular extraction – your surgeon will remove the entire lens and lens capsule, before inserting the IOL. Usually your ophthalmologist will wait for your first eye to heal before operating on your second eye.
Types of Lenses used in Cataract Surgery
Depending on your post-operative preferences, the ophthalmologist will choose a lens best suited to you. These may be single vision or multifocal lenses.
Single vision means your vision will be corrected for near or distance clarity. In most cases patients choose to have good distance vision, meaning they should not need glasses for activities like driving and watching TV, but they will need reading glasses for small print. Occasionally patients may choose to remain shortsighted, particularly if they are used to wearing glasses. This means glasses will be needed to drive and watch TV but will not be needed to read small print.
Multifocal lenses can eliminate the need for glasses all together as they allow clear vision at both near and distance. Multifocal lenses work differently and are more expensive than single vision lenses so it is important to discuss with the ophthalmologist whether these will be right for you.
It is important to note that sometimes it is unavoidable that prescription glasses will be required after surgery regardless of the lens chosen. This can be due to a pre-existing condition or natural variation in recovery after surgery.
After Cataract Surgery
Following cataract surgery the operated eye will be patched over night. The next day you will return to the consultation rooms where the orthoptist will remove the eyepatch, clean the eyelids and check your vision. The ophthalmologist will then inspect the operated eye and guide you through the post-operative eyedrop regimen.
The ophthalmologist will routinely like to see you again at 1 week and 1 month post surgery to monitor recovery.
It is important to note that clear vision is not expected immediately after surgery. The eye will need some time to recover from the operation and vision will generally settle over the following days to weeks. Drops will be required for the first month after surgery to aid this healing. Driving is not permitted during the first week. Having prescription glasses made up by the optometrist is not recommended during the first month during the recovery process.
For more information on cataract surgery or the surgical options that would be best suited to you please contact our team today on (02) 9868 2333.