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Nuffield Health: seeing in the spring

As we get older, cataracts affect many of us, but acting early can reduce the impact they will have on your life. Here, we focus on the signs to look for, and what can be done to alleviate the problem.

Cataracts are a very common eye condition, and many people aged over 60 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. If cataracts have been limiting your ability to do the things you enjoy, surgery to remove them can be a truly life-changing experience.

How does your eye work?
Light enters your eye through the cornea (the clear window at the front), and the lens ensures this light is focused correctly to form an image when it reaches the retina. Just like glasses lenses, in order to see clearly, the lens in your eye needs to 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”. However, 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 close 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 coloured 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, over time 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 ageing. Most people over 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. New glasses will not help if the cataract is too advanced, and cataract surgery is one of the most successful operations performed.

In the past, eye surgeons often waited until the cataract became “ripe” before removing it, but with modern surgical precision and techniques, the operation is usually done as soon as your eyesight interferes with your daily activities, such as reading and driving.

What does the operation involve?
Cataract surgery is usually done with a local anaesthetic and takes around 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 then simply placed inside the eye.

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, but the majority of people have no problems following cataract surgery and are up and about the next day.

What should I expect to see after the operation?
Usually, everything in the distance will be clear, but 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. However, premium lenses are also available at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital, and offer the potential to see clearly at more than one point of focus. Premium lenses are not available on the NHS, and are not suitable for everybody, but your surgeon will help you make the best decision, based on your individual needs.

Consultants specialising in cataract surgery at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital include Mr Kieren Darcy, Mr Adam Ross, Mr Mo Majid, Mr Sidath Liyanage, Mr Michael Greaney, Mr Richard Haynes, Miss Rani Sebastian and Mr Rafik Girgis.

Furthermore, if you have any additional health concerns but are struggling to book an appointment with your GP, Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital also offers a private GP service, with minimal waiting times for appointments, prescriptions and referrals. Call our Enquiries team on the number below, who will be able to assist you in booking a consultation.

If you would like to book an appointment with one of Nuffield’s Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeons, or a member of the private GP team, call 0117 911 5339, or visit the Nuffield website: nuffieldhealth.com

Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital, 3 Clifton Hill, Bristol BS8 1BN