A cataract is a condition in which the lens in the eye becomes cloudy. It is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. A cataract can occur in either one or both eyes. Cataracts can cause blurry vision and glare. If left untreated, severe cataracts significantly impair one's vision. Poor vision will have a negative impact on one's quality of life. A person with significant cataracts may face difficulties with everyday activities, such as reading, driving and even walking safely. Cataracts have been associated with an increase in falls and also depression.
Cataracts tend to develop because of ageing or when injury changes the tissue that makes up the eye’s lens. Proteins and fibres in the lens break down and clump together, causing the lens to become cloudy and your vision to become hazy.
Most cataracts are caused by the natural ageing process. However, these factors increase the risk of developing cataracts at a young age:
Early cataracts which do not affect your vision significantly do not require treatment. Update your spectacles prescription regularly so that you can achieve the best possible vision. You can also make small changes to your home and work environment to alleviate the symptoms of cataracts, including using magnifying lenses and brighter light for reading and other activities.
When the cataract progresses and affects your daily activities despite these simple measures, you may require cataract surgery. Surgery is the only way to get rid of a cataract
Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed eye surgery worldwide. The surgeon removes the cloudy natural lens of the eye and replaces it with an artificial lens.
Cataract surgery is a day surgery procedure and you can usually go home on the same day. An eyedrop or an injection around the eye is used to numb your eye, so that you would not feel any pain during the surgery. You may also receive intravenous medications which would help you to be relaxed and comfortable. Most patients share that they do not feel much pain during cataract surgery, though they may experience a sensation of pressure on the eye.
The vast majority of cataracts are removed by phacoemulsification. The natural lens in the eye is contained in a lens capsule. In phacoemulsification, an opening is made in the front part of the lens capsule. Ultrasound is used to break up the cloudy lens into tiny fragments which are then suctioned and removed. An artificial lens is then inserted within the lens capsule. The incision for phacoemulsification is very small and most of the time, stitches are not required.
A much less common procedure for removing the cataracts is called extracapsular cataract extraction. This technique is used when the cataract is very advanced and dense, or if there are complications during phacoemulsification, e.g. if the back of the lens capsule has a defect, or if the lens capsule is unstable. In this procedure, a larger incision allows the cataract to be removed in one piece. An artificial lens is then inserted to replace the natural lens and stitches are required to close the larger incision. Recovery from this type of cataract surgery is usually slower.
The success rate of improving your vision after cataract surgery is high at more than 98%. You may still require spectacles after cataract surgery but your vision will likely be clearer with spectacles.
However, as with any surgery, cataract surgery has potential risks. So make sure you discuss these in detail with your eye doctor. Fortunately, the risk of complications resulting in significant vision loss is very rare after cataract surgery, occurring in only 1 in a thousand procedures. for the vast majority, cataract surgery is an effective and safe procedure which improve the vision and quality of life of millions of people worldwide each year.