Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. When we look at something, light rays travel into our eye through the pupil and are focused through the lens onto the retina, a layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye.
The lens must be clear in order to focus light properly onto the retina. If the lens has become cloudy, this is called a cataract.
Cataracts develop as a normal part of the ageing process. By the age of 60, about half of all adults will have some cataract formation.
The earliest symptoms can begin with glare and sensitivity to bright light. Later, as the cataract continues to worsen, haloes may appear around lights.
Haloes are especially noticeable when driving at night; consequently, night vision typically decreases. Vision typically becomes more blurred, hazy and foggy. Colours often become duller and darker. The power of the eye changes and becomes more short-sighted. As a result, some patients find that their reading glasses are not needed, although visual clarity is diminished.
Removal of a cataract may be necessary when vision has worsened or if daily activities, reading, driving and hobbies are affected, or if personal safety is at risk. If vision is unaffected or only slightly affected by a cataract, no treatment is necessary.
Cataracts cannot be cured by any type of medication, eye exercise, alternative therapy, diet or glasses. Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. The old, cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens.
As part of your cataract assessment, your eyes will be measured by trained clinicians (orthoptists) to best determine the power of the lens needed for your eye.
The intraocular lens (IOL) is usually chosen for distance vision. Because it is an artificial lens, it cannot focus like our natural lens. This is why after cataract surgery glasses are still required for reading. Alternatively, the lens power may be intended for reading, with glasses required for clear distance vision.
If you have a particular preference for your lens implant or any concerns, please discuss them with our team.
Removal of a cataract is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Australia. It has a high rate of success due to the modern methods used.
Cataract surgery is usually performed under local anaesthetic and light sedation. A specialist anaesthetist gives the anaesthetic and sedative. It is performed as a day-only procedure.
The operation itself takes approximately twenty minutes and involves very small incisions in the eye to remove the cataract and old lens, which is then replaced with a clear, artificial lens. These incisions are so small that they do not require any stitches.
If the rest of the eye is healthy, the likelihood is that cataract surgery will restore vision. Final vision may be limited by conditions such as macula degeneration, diabetes or glaucoma.
After surgery, most patients are ready to leave within an hour or so. Arrange for someone to drive you home.
Most patients do not have post-operative pain. Some discomfort is normal. Over-the-counter pain killers can be taken as required.
You will also be prescribed medicated eye drops to help your eye heal from surgery. Use them as indicated by your doctor.
We will also examine you the day following surgery to check on your progress.
If both eyes require cataract surgery and there are no other indications, they can usually be done one week apart. Ask our surgeons about what is best for your eyes.
Any surgical procedure is associated with risks to the patient. While we make every attempt to minimise risks, complications can occur.
Because of the significant surgical advances in recent years, serious complications following cataract extraction are not common.
Your surgeon will explain the nature of these complications with you at your appointment.