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Cataract surgery

Surgery is the only type of treatment that is proven to be effective for cataracts.

Cataracts occur when changes in the lens of the eye cause it to become less transparent or clear, resulting in cloudy or misty vision. Cataract development is a normal part of the ageing process, so everyone develops a degree of cataract as they get older.

Description of treatment

During cataract surgery, the consultant will make small cuts or incisions in the side of the eye and use ultrasound probes in a technique called phacoemulsification. These are not lasers, as is commonly believed, but they remove the cataract, and then replace it with the artificial lens. The operation usually takes about half an hour.

How does it work?

Cataract surgery aims to improve your vision by removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. The new lens is made of plastic and stays in the eye forever, only rarely needing replacement. Measurements taken before the operation help to decide the correct lens strength. Once the cataract is removed you should be able to see more clearly. Your colour perception may also improve.

What can the patient expect?

Cataract surgery is normally performed as day surgery under local anaesthetic. You are awake but your eye will not feel any pain. You will not be able to see properly during the operation, but you may notice bright lights or colours. You will need to lie relatively still during the operation; if you need to cough or adjust your position, you should warn your consultant.

Risks of cataract surgery

Cataract surgery is usually very successful, with more than 95 out of 100 of people noticing an improvement in their vision after surgery if there are no other pre-existing eye conditions. However, like any surgery, there are some risks associated with cataract surgery. If you have any questions or concerns about the procedure please discuss these with your consultant.

Some of the complications that may occur during the operation include:

  • internal bleeding
  • damage to other structures of the eye
  • incomplete removal of the cataract
  • part of the cataract falling into the back of the eye.

Some of these complications can be dealt with at the time of the surgery or just after surgery.

  • Potential complications occurring after the operation include:
  • severe infection
  • fluid accumulating in the retina
  • detachment of the retina
  • incorrect strength of lens inserted
  • clouding of the membrane behind the lens.

These complications can sometimes occur even if the operation itself is carried out perfectly. Many of these complications are manageable, although it may mean that other treatments may be required and that the recovery period may be longer than usual. The most serious consequence of all the complications is the risk of loss of vision. The chance of severe or complete permanent loss of vision in the operated eye is less than one in 1,000.

Consultants linked to this treatment

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