Cataracts: 10 Frequently Asked Questions

September 14th, 2012

Picture of an early cataract with the lens becoming opaque

1. What is a cataract?

A cataract develops when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Less light is able to get into the eye and so images appear dull. This usually happens as part of the natural aging process of the lens.

2. How are cataracts detected?

Usually cataracts are found during a routine visit to your optician. Your optician will be able to give you advice as to how advanced the cataract has become.

3. Do cataracts always need to be removed?

An early cataract may give no significant symptoms and can be monitored by your optician. But, if your vision is becoming blurry and is affecting your driving, reading or leisure activities then it is time to consider having the cataract removed.

4. Can both eyes be operated on at once?

Although this is possible in theory, it is best to operate on each eye separately.

5. How are cataracts removed?

Cataracts are removed by an operation, called phakoemulsification. The operation is often performed under a local anaesthetic as a day case procedure.   During the operation the lens is gently separated into fragments and removed from the eye. A new permanent, artificial lens is then placed inside the eye.

6. Does the operation involve a laser?

Cataract surgery utilises a phakoemulsifier, which looks like a large pen. This gently breaks the cataract into pieces by using  ultrasound. Lasers are not used to remove a cataract routinely.

7. Will I see what is happening during the operation?

The anaesthetic used during the operation makes the vision temporarily blurry and so at the most you see a dim light during  surgery. It may be hard to believe but many people doze off during surgery as the operating theatre is very quiet with a relaxed atmosphere.

8. How safe is cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is one of the most frequently performed operations today. This would not be the case if the operation was very risky. The vast majority of patients benefit from improved vision after surgery. However, no operation is risk free and before deciding to have surgery any concerns should be discussed.

9. Will my eye be painful after the operation?

After surgery most people experience only mild discomfort or grittiness and this can be relieved by using paracetamol tablets.

10. Do I need to change my glasses after surgery?

After cataract surgery most people notice that the quality of their vision is greatly improved especially brightness and colour perception. However, glasses are still necessary for reading as the implant lens has a fixed focus. Long distance vision (i.e. for driving) can also benefit from a change in spectacles. It is best to wait for 4-5 weeks after surgery before visiting your  local  optician. It is often possible to resume driving before getting new glasses.


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