How are cataracts treated?

What is a cataract?

Because a cataract is a clouding of – not a film over – your lens, surgery is the only way to remove cataract once it is formed.

The operation involves making a small 3 mm opening in the front surface of the eye, through which is put a small instrument that breaks the cataract up into smaller pieces so that it can be removed. This is called phacoemulsification. After that a small clear plastic lens (intraocular lens or IOL) is put into the eye to take the place of the cloudy lens.

The whole operation takes around half an hour. Surgery is done on only one eye at a time. That way you can use the other eye while the eye that is operated on heals.

Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery Diagram

The operation can be done either under local or general anaesthetic. With local anaesthetic numbing medication is used around the eye so that the operation is painless. The majority of patients prefer this method. If however, you are apprehensive about being awake during the operation, or have a problem such as an uncontrollable cough or twitch, which would interfere with the operation, it is better for you to have a general anaesthetic. Your surgeon will discuss which is the preferred method for you.

The initial parts of the operation can be performed using laser cataract surgery. There is an additional charge with this procedure and health insurance companies do not cover it.

What happens after the operation?

After the operation you will have an eye pad on until the next morning when you come back for your follow up visit. You will be started on eye drops that will be used for one month. Usually you can resume your normal activities and hobbies the next day. It will take a few days to adjust to your new vision and you should not drive for the first day or so. You may need to get your glasses updated and this is usually done 3-4 weeks after the operation.

Following surgery it is most important that you contact your surgeon urgently if your eye becomes increasingly painful or your vision becomes blurry.

How successful is cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is very successful with a greater than 95% chance of greatly improved vision. As with any operation, however, there is always some risk of complications such as infection or bleeding but fortunately these occur very rarely.