Cataract is a condition in which the eye's crystalline lens becomes progressively cloudy, usually as a result of metabolic changes that happen in the lens as we age.
Although cataract can cause blindness if left unchecked, treatment is a very simple surgical procedure and has a dramatic effect on a patient's visual acuity and quality of life. Cataract surgery is in fact the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the western world.
What is a Cataract?
The lens of the eye is normally transparent. If a cloudy area develops in the lens, it is called a cataract. This reduces the amount of light that is able to pass through the lens, resulting in blurred or ‘cloudy’ vision.
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.
If the eye is healthy prior to cataract surgery, it is likely that cataract surgery will restore good vision. If however, there is underlying macular degeneration or diabetes affecting the retina, final vision may be limited by these conditions.
Of every 100 operations to remove a cataract, 99 will result in improved vision.
How does the surgeon remove the cataract?
Our surgeons use a technique called phacoemulsification, which involves removing the natural lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. A small probe is inserted to divide the cloudy lens into small pieces. The pieces are then gently suctioned away.
After surgery, a prosthetic lens called an intraocular lens (or IOL) is inserted into the eye. The IOL is usually inserted and held in place by the lens capsule.
The incision made in the eye for this procedure is so small that it often requires no stitches. After the surgery, the eye is covered with a shield for protection.
Posterior Capsule Opacity
After cataract surgery is performed, tiny cells left over from the lens cortex can accumulate between the intraocular lens and the lens capsule. When these cells clump together they can obscure vision, causing what is called Posterior Capsule Opacity (sometimes known as "secondary cataract", or "after cataract").
Posterior Capsule Opacity usually develops within 6 months to two years after the initial cataract surgery, and occurs in 10-20% of patients. While this may sound concerning, our surgeons can treat a posterior capsule opacity in just a few minutes using a specialised laser called a YAG laser.
The YAG laser makes a small opening in the centre of the posterior capsule, clearing the debris of cortical lens cells in the process. Improvement in vision is experienced immediately and the procedure usually does not need to be repeated.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I be awake during the procedure?
Yes. Cataract removal is usually performed under local anaesthetic and light sedation. A specialist anaesthetist gives the anaesthetic and sedative.
How long does the operation take?
The entire operation usually takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
If I have cataracts in both eyes, will both be operated on at the same time?
If both of your eyes are affected by cataracts, your doctor will usually wait until the first eye has healed before operating on your second eye.
Are there any risks associated with cataract surgery?
Any surgical procedure is associated with some risks to the patient. Serious complications following cataract extraction are quite rare because of the significant surgical advances in recent years.
How long does it take to recover after cataract surgery?
After the surgery, you will be moved to a quiet area to recover from the minimal effects of the sedation and anaesthesia. You are usually ready to leave within a few hours. For the first 24 hours you will be advised not to:
- Drive or operate heavy machinery
- Make important decisions or sign legal documents
- Drink alcohol
- You will have your eye examined the day after the surgery to check on your progress