This month’s Nuffield Health advice column focusses on cataracts, including the signs to look out for and ways to alleviate the problem
Cataracts are a very common eye condition, and many people aged over 60 years will have at least some amount present. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye, which causes your sight to become misty. Cataracts slowly get worse and your sight gets cloudier over time, but the vast majority can be treated successfully.
How does your eye work?
Light enters your eye through your cornea (the clear window at the front) and your lens makes sure this light is focused correctly to form an image when it reaches the retina. To produce a sharp image the lens must be clear.
Throughout your life, your lens changes shape to help you see things clearly in the distance and close up. This is called “accommodation of vision”. As we get older, the lens isn’t able to change shape as well as it used to. When this happens, most people can see clearly in the distance but need reading glasses for near work.
How does a cataract affect your sight?
Cataracts could affect your sight in a number of ways. Your vision may become blurred or appear misty; you may be dazzled by lights; or your colour vision may seem washed out or faded.
Most people will eventually develop a cataract in both eyes, though one eye may be affected before the other. If a cataract isn’t removed, eventually it will be like trying to see through a frosted window. Even if your cataract gets to this stage, it can still be removed and your sight will be almost as it was before the cataract developed.
What causes a cataract?
The most common reason is growing older. Most people over the age of 60 have some amount of cataract and this gradually worsens with age. Apart from getting older, other common causes of cataracts include diabetes, medications such as steroids, and longstanding eye conditions. They can also be present at birth (congenital cataracts).
What treatment is available?
The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove your cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial clear lens implant. Cataract surgery is one of the most successful operations. New glasses will not help if the cataract is too advanced.
When should I have the operation?
In the past, eye surgeons often waited until the cataract became “ripe” before removing it. Nowadays, with modern surgery the operation is usually done as soon as your eyesight interferes with your daily activities, such as reading and driving, especially at night.
What does the operation involve?
Cataract surgery is usually done with a local anaesthetic and normally takes about 20 minutes. Small cuts are made and the cataract is removed in small pieces using sound waves (phacoemulsification) so you don’t need stitches. The artificial lens implant is placed inside the eye. Surgery is generally very successful and effective.
How soon will I recover?
After surgery, you can usually go back to your everyday activities within a few days. You will be given eye drops to use for up to four weeks. Most people have no problems after the surgery and they are up and about the next day.
What should I expect to see after the operation?
Usually, everything in the distance will be clear. However, your reading vision in the operated eye may be blurred. This is because the standard lens implant isn’t able to provide clear vision for both distance and near.
Nuffield Health is the UK’s largest not-for-profit healthcare provider, which means that all of its profits are reinvested into better facilities for the patients. For more information about the eye treatments available at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital, The Chesterfield, visit nuffieldhealth.com or call
the enquiries team on 0117 911 5339 to book an appointment.