What is Cataract?
Development of cataract is part of the natural ageing process of the eye. There is a lens within the eye (just behind the coloured iris) which focuses light on the retina to enable us to see. The lens protects the retina by absorbing damaging blue and ultra-violet light, but over time this takes it's toll on the lens and a cataract develops.
Cataracts come in all shapes and sizes, with some starting at the lens edge and not causing much disruption to vision. Others form right in the middle of the lens, so are more noticeable. Some patients notice significant changes in sight over a few months, others can go for years without it getting any worse. There are different ways to define a cataract, some say it's anything where the lens isn't 100% clear, others say the lens opacity is only a cataract if it affects vision.
How is Cataract Treated?
If your cataract needs treatment, you may choose the private or NHS route. Private patients can have the procedure at any time, or under the NHS you have to wait until your vision has reached a certain line on the test chart. Whether or not to go ahead is the patient's decision, and your optometrist would be happy to discuss your options with you.
When you are ready for treatment you will be referred on to the hospital. The consultant dilates your eyes with drops - make sure you have someone to take you home again! They will examine your eyes, look at the cataract, take measurements and confirm that everything is ready to go ahead. This is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the country! It is usually done as an out patient case, and takes around twenty minutes. There are different options for the lens that will be put into your eye, you and your ophthalmologist will decide what's best for you.
Anaesthetic is given in drop form, and the keyhole procedure is done using a microscope. The cataractous lens is 'hoovered' out of the eye, and a shiny new lens is put in it's place. There are no stitches afterwards. The new lens is plastic, so there is no danger of reaction with your eye, and sight will be much clearer. Most patients notice a huge improvement in how they see colours, as cataracts make everything look browny-yellow.
Can the Cataract Come Back?
Not as such, because the new lens is plastic and cannot become cloudy. A small secondary cataract can grow behind the lens months or even years after you're had the cataract removed. This is quite normal and you can have it removed with a little laser light.
Can I Prevent Cataract?
Unfortunately cataracts are common, but it is possible to help keep them at bay for as long as possible. Healthy eating and not smoking are known to help in keeping the lens cataract free for as long as possible. Protecting the eyes from that damaging UV and blue light will also help. Wear good quality sunglasses as often as possible, and not just in the summer months. Winter is the worst time of year as the sun is low and so shines directly into the eyes.