Cataracts are a gradual cloudiness of the lens (the transparent structure at the front of the eye) and can make vision blurred or misty. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes. Over time, the cloudiness can become denser. As less light is able to pass through the lens, a person’s vision is likely to become blurry. The cloudier the lens becomes, the more a person’s sight is affected. In most cases, a cataract will continue to develop and surgery to remove the category is the only way to restore vision.
If you have a cataract getting in the way of your daily activities and affecting your ability to drive or read, you may need cataract surgery. Typical early signs of cataracts are:
- blurred vision or dazzle from lights (such as oncoming car headlights);
- increasing short sightedness (myopia);
- colours become duller.
In the past, people with cataracts were encouraged to wait until they could hardly see. These days, surgery to remove a cataract can be done at any stage of development, once it is affecting your ability to function.
Before your operation, you will be referred to a specialist eye doctor (an ophthalmologist or ophthalmic surgeon). They will assess your eyes and general health. During the assessment, your eyes are measured to prepare for the artificial lens that will replace your natural lens.
Cataract surgery can often be completed within 30 minutes. A local anaesthetic will be used meaning you will be awake during the operation but you won’t feel any pain. You can talk to the operating team if you need any assurance. To remove the cataract, the ophthalmologist needs to remove the natural lens in your eye and replace it with a plastic lens implant. The most common way to remove cataracts is called phacoemulsification. This technique uses high frequency sound energy to break up your natural lens with the cataract. A really small opening will be used, so there is no need for any stitches, which helps to speed up the recovery from the surgery.The surgeon makes a tiny incision in your cornea (the transparent outer layer on the front of your eye). A small probe that releases ultrasound waves (high-frequency sound waves) is inserted into your cornea to break the cataract up into tiny pieces. After the ultrasound probe has been removed, a new probe is inserted which sucks out the pieces of the cataract.
When the entire cataract has been removed, the surgeon inserts a small plastic lens through the incision in your cornea. The lens sits in the lens capsule, behind the pupil. The replacement lens is folded in half when it’s inserted so it can fit through the incision in the cornea. When it is in place, it unfolds itself and adopts the natural position of the old lens.
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