What is a cataract?
Cataracts are a common visual problem. Often developing very gradually, the natural crystalline lens becomes clouded, causing vision to become misty. It the most common cause of vision loss in the world, but it is treatable. Luckily, advances in cataracts treatment mean that the problem can be treated very effectively with a simple and safe surgical procedure.
Cataracts symptoms and signs
The problem tends to develop slowly over time. Eventually, cataracts result in a gradual loss of the clarity of vision. Often, patients may complain of:
- cloudiness or mistiness
- a fading or loss in the vibrancy of colour (although this tends to be a gradual symptom and less obvious)
They can also:
- increase light scatter, resulting in a dazzling “glare” when the eye is exposed to bright lights
- cause changes to your glasses prescription.
The cause of the problem
Cataracts can be the result of a number of underlying causes including:
- Age (because they develop gradually over time, cataracts are much more common in older people)
- UV damage as a result of exposure to sunlight
- Steroid use
- Ocular inflammation
- Previous trauma
- Familial factors (they run in families, so if close relatives suffer from the symptoms above then there will be an increased risk to yourself and a cataracts treatment may often be inevitable)
The only way to treat cataracts is through the surgical removal of the cloudy lens. There is no way to reverse or “cure” a cataract.
Cataract surgery is a very successful treatment option and is the most commonly performed procedure in the UK with over 300,000 surgeries being performed every year. The surgery takes around 30 minutes, and is performed as a day case under local anesthetic in most cases.
This traditional cataracts treatment involves a tiny incision around 2mm in length that is made in the cornea. Through this incision a small instrument is inserted which is then used to make a small hole in the capsular bag (the bag that holds the crystalline lens). Once the hole has been made, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the eye which is then used to break up and remove the cloudy lens. Once the cataract is removed, an artificial lens of a predetermined power is inserted into the eye.
Additionally, it is now possible to remove the cataracts using Femtosecond Laser Cataract Surgery.
Risks of cataract surgery
Cataracts treatment risks are very small. The most common complication associated with the surgery is something called posterior capsule opacification (PCO). This causes vision to become cloudy due to the formation of a membrane over the new lens. However, this can be treated using a special type of laser which removes the membrane.
Other complications can occur but are much rarer. These include:
- Tearing of the capsule bag
- Infection or bleeding
- Retinal detachment
Despite this, it remains one of the safest surgical procedures in modern surgery and all of these complications will be discussed in detail prior to any treatment.