Cataracts have the potential to cause a lot of discomfort and inconveniece. In this article you will learn more about what they are and how to treat them.
The main cause is age. However, smoking, poor diet and exposure to sunlight have been linked to cataracts. Younger people can develop cataracts if they have an injury to the eye and some medical conditions including diabetes or taking certain medications (E.g. Cortisone) may also cause cataracts. A very small number of babies are born with a cataract.
Many people with a cataract notice that they need the prescription changed in their spectacles. If you are long-sighted (Can’t see at near), you may even notice that you need your glasses less than you did before you had the cataract! You may notice that your vision is less clear and distinct especially for far away vision. Car headlights and streetlights can become dazzling. You may experience difficulties moving from shaded to sunlit areas and colours may look faded or yellowed. If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your optometrist.
If you have had a cataract removed from one eye, it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye at some point in the future.
There are various supplements on the market which claim to help slow the progression of cataracts and some eye drops have been marketed as a treatment for them. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any of these can prevent or treat cataracts. The best advice to try to prevent cataracts, or to stop it getting worse, is to stop smoking and to wear good-quality sunglasses with full UV protection.
If your cataract is affecting your day-to-day life (for example, driving, reading or cooking), and your optometrist cannot improve this enough by changing your glasses, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) for surgery. This involves removing the cloudy lens (the cataract) and replacing it with a clear artificial lens.
You will have an initial appointment where the eye surgeon will assess and measure your eyes. You will be asked about your general health to help make sure that the operation is suitable for you. The ophthalmologist may also be able to correct your short- or long-sightedness so that you do not need to wear your glasses as much after the operation as you did before.
Most cataract operations are done using a local anesthetic. You will be awake, but the anesthetist will make sure you do not feel the area around your eye. You will hear the eye specialist explaining what they are doing and may see some vague movements around the eye. The specialist makes a tiny cut in the eye to remove the cataract, and will, in most cases, insert a plastic replacement lens so that you can see clearly. This will usually take around 15 to 20 minutes, although it can take longer. You will not normally need stitches, but your eye will be covered to protect it from knocks for a few days after the operation. You will be allowed to go home the same day and should have someone to collect you. Do not drive the same day after the surgery.
The ophthalmologist will give you eye drops to use for the first few weeks after your operation. These drops prevent infection and are very important to take as specified by your doctor. Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise immediately after the operation, but carry on with most other activities round the home as normal. Avoid eye make-up and try not to get soapy water in your eyes when you wash your hair. If you go out on a windy day, you may feel safer with sunglasses to prevent grit getting in your eyes. Ask your specialist about when you can go back to work.
Cataract removal is a same day procedure and does not require you to sleep over at the clinic or hospital. Once you have recovered from the anesthetic, you may go home.
You will see the eye surgeon the day after the operation and at the following time intervals, 1 week, 1 month and 6 months. This timeline may vary slighty from surgeon to surgeon and depending on whether there have been any complications.
Your eyesight will settle down in a few weeks. You will probably find that your glasses will need changing after the operation, so you will need to see your optometrist again for an eye examination 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery. Your ophthalmologist or optometrist will be able to advise you as to when you can start driving again. In some cases you may be able to drive the day after surgery. You may find that it takes a few weeks to adapt to your vision with new glasses after cataract surgery. This is normal, and is due to your brain adapting to a different prescription.
It is normal to be light sensitive after cataract surgery. This photo-sensitivity will subside however in general you will find the world to be brighter and a good pair of sunglasses will be needed when you are outside in the sunlight. Ask your optometrist for advice and about polarized sunglasses.
Your eye surgeon will tell you to be wary of any flashes of light that you may see in your peripheral vision, sudden onset floaters (comb web shaped or blob like floating particles) in your visual field or a curtain-like shadow drifting across your vision or that is evident on the side of your visual field.
These symptoms can indicate a retinal tear or detachment which occurs right at the back of the eye. This can be treated with a laser to prevent the rest of the retina from detaching. It is important to have this attended to immediately, i.e. same day.
In very rare cases there may be infection or hemorrhaging inside the eye. If the vision suddenly decreases, call the ophthalmologist immediately.
After some months or years, a few people notice that their vision becomes cloudy or misty again in the eye where the cataract has been removed. This is not the cataract returning, but is due to the sac which contains the replacement lens clouding up. This cloudiness can be removed by painless laser treatment in a matter of minutes. Contact your optometrist if you are worried that this is happening to you.
It is important to know that any surgical procedure comes with risks however most cataract extractions are performed without complications. If you have good general health and good ocular health, you are unlikely to have any problems. If you are uncertain about the procedure or have any other questions, please contact our Optometrist, Catherine Rosewall-McCarthy.
If you have further questions about this topic, or feel that you need to discuss your personal situation with a professional optometrist, please contact us so we can assist you further.
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