Cataracts

The eye lens is clear in a healthy individual, leaving vision unobscured. However, a cataract causes the lens to become cloudy, affecting vision. Cataract surgery removes the natural lens of the eye that has developed an opacification (cataract), replacing it with an artificial intraocular lens.

What are Cataracts?

Cataracts are common in adults, usually affecting those aged over 60. A cataract clouds the lens in your eye due to the degradation of natural proteins in your lens. Cataracts can grow slowly and sometimes don’t impede vision until months or years after the cataract has presented. You may have to see an optician if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Clouded, blurred or dimmed vision
  • Increased difficulty with vision at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
  • Seeing “halos” around lights
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Fading or yellowing of colours

Am I Eligible for Cataract Surgery?

Cataract surgery is a 45-minute-long procedure performed as an outpatient surgery but provides huge improvements to the quality of life of patients, with minimal risk involved. If you have no other conditions affecting your eyes, the benefits of having your cataracts removed can be life-changing. Cataract surgery is still an option if you have another eye condition, however it is wise to discuss this with the specialist before any procedure, as they may suggest the risk of complications coinciding with pre-existing conditions is too great. Alternatively, they may recommend delaying surgery.

Benefits of Cataract Surgery

Intraocular (multifocal) lens implants may correct your vision entirely so that you can see distant objects, and at night, without glasses or contact lenses. In addition, overall cataract removal often leads to improved quality of life and well-being and a significantly reduced risk of personal accidents related to vision, such as car accidents, trips and falls.

After cataract surgery, you will likely:

  • See things in focus
  • Be able to look into bright lights and not see as much glare
  • Be able to tell the difference between colours

What Are The Risks of Cataract Surgery?

The eyes are very delicate and, although treatment options and surgeons are very advanced, it is worth noting some of the potential risks of undergoing cataract surgery:

  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Dislocation of artificial lens
  • Retinal detachment
  • Glaucoma
  • Secondary cataract
  • Loss of vision

The risks of this surgery may increase with a secondary eye condition, and so this should be discussed with your ophthalmologist.

The Cataract Removal Procedure Explained

Before the procedure, an ophthalmologist may discuss which eye lenses are most suitable for replacement to help your vision. Lenses available include:

  1. Fixed focus monofocal: This type of lens has a single focus strength for distance vision. Reading will generally require the use of reading glasses
  2. Accommodating focus monofocal: Single focusing strength that responds to eye muscles and movement to shift focus from near to far
  3. Multifocal: Bifocal lenses which allow for different areas of the lens having different focusing strengths, allowing for near, medium and distant vision

During The Procedure:

  • The surgeon will apply local anaesthetic (via drops and topical) and possibly a mild sedative to help you relax if required
  • The surgeon makes a tiny incision in the front of the eye and inserts a thin probe into where the cataract has formed
  • The probe emits ultrasound waves to break up the cataract
  • The fragments are removed via suctioning
  • The artificial lens is implanted into the empty lens capsule

After The Procedure:

After cataract surgery, expect your vision to begin improving within a few days. However, your vision may be blurry at first as your eye heals and adjusts. You will usually have an appointment two or three days after the surgery, a week later, and one month later to monitor healing. It is normal to feel itching and mild discomfort for a couple of days after surgery, so avoid rubbing or pushing your eye.

How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost in the UK?

  1. The NHS offers this service with some limitations. Private options for cataract surgery in the UK cost between £3,000 – £4,000 per eye.
  2. The NHS does not generally provide multifocal lenses during cataract surgery. On the NHS, you will likely be supplied with a monofocal (IOL) lens, which only includes focus at one distance, usually tailored to your vision, which may leave other forms of vision blurred. This may result in patients needing glasses for reading or distances. Multifocal lenses provide vision across varying distances. The current waiting time for cataract surgery on the NHS is 18 weeks, however due to the coronavirus pandemic, this surgery has been delayed significantly.

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