Cataracts and Cataract Surgery

As we get older, the clear lens in our eyes can become cloudy. Our vision might grow blurry and faded. This is called a cataract. When symptoms first appear, you can use stronger lighting and glasses to cope with weaker vision. Eventually you may need more. Cataracts are treated by removing the cloudy lens with surgery.

Surgery is generally a safe, effective and very common treatment.

As well as affecting older people, the condition does sometimes occur in younger people and even infants.

What are the symptoms? What are the dangers?

Cataracts can affect one eye or both. Symptoms can include:

  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light and glare
  • reduced night vision
  • fading or yellowing of colours
  • increased vividness of colours
  • double vision in one eye.

You may have trouble driving, reading or recognising faces.

Effects of Cataracts on Vision

Untreated, it can lead to blindness. This is an especial problem in the third world – even though, to quote the World Bank, “Cataract surgery is one of the most successful and cost-effective surgical procedures of all time”. Undiagnosed in children the condition can slow development. If present from birth they may need urgent surgery to allow normal visual development, or monitoring if they’re not too dense.

Cataracts cause half the world’s blindness and a third of the world’s vision impairment.

If you do notice any changes to your eyesight, visit a doctor, optometrist or ophthalmologist for a check.

Diagnosis, treatment & the world’s most common surgery.

Diagnosis can include a simple eye-chart check and a slit-lamp examination. Eye drops may be applied to dilate (widen) your pupils so your eye doctor can better check your lens and retina. You may be prescribed glasses and given advice about how to manage if the condition isn’t too far advanced.

Full repair requires surgery.

Cataract surgery is very common – in fact it’s the most common eye surgery in the world. The surgeon will make a small incision, remove the lens and replace it with a small plastic lens. Surgery is usually done under local anaesthetic. Typically, it requires no stitches and vision returns within days. Once a cataract is removed, it cannot redevelop.

Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation has produced this clear, informative video about cataract surgery.

Cataract Surgery at Sydney Eye Hospital Video

Who is most at risk?

Eventually almost everyone will develop a cataract as they age. By 80 almost all of us will have one forming or formed to some degree.

The risk grows if you smoke, have unprotected exposure to UV sunlight, or have diabetes or a family history.

They can also happen in younger people and can occur from birth or grow through childhood. Or they can result from traumatic injury, or after surgery for another eye problem, or from radiation exposure, or sometimes from drugs used in medical care, particularly corticosteroids.

What can you do to prevent them forming?

Some basic prevention can delay the onset:

  • wear sunglasses – UV radiation from sunlight is a major risk factor
  • don’t smoke – or give it up
  • take steps to avoid developing diabetes.

You may still develop cataracts, so if you have any of the symptoms, see your doctor or optometrist.

Types and causes.

There’s a clear lens at the front of your eye. Its function is to focus light on the retina. The lens is made of proteins: over time the proteins can degrade and denature, losing their “crystal clear” quality and leading to cloudiness. This usually develops gradually, over years.

There are numerous types of cataract: partial or complete, stationary or progressive, and hard or soft. The main types of age-related cataracts are:

  • Affecting the centre of the lens, this might start with blurriness (or even improved vision!) and then an increasing yellowing and browning, making it hard to distinguish colours.
  • Affects the edge of the lens. White streaks or wedges appear on the edge of the lens, as seen from the outside. Eventually they move to the centre and interfere with the light, making vision difficult.
  • Posterior subcapsular. Affecting the back of the lens, this type can make reading hard, cause sensitivity to bright light and flash haloes around objects. It may progress faster than other kinds.

Whichever type you have, your eye doctor and surgeon will recommend the best treatment for your age and condition.

In children the causes can be genetic, or can spring from the effects of infection or some other condition before birth.

Help us in our work against eye disease.

Sydney Eye Hospital tests for cataracts, performs cataract surgery, undertakes significant research into the condition and is involved in developing improved treatment.

The Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation supports the hospital’s programs through focused fund-raising aimed at saving sight, including the funding of eight annual Fellowships in a variety of surgery and treatment fields.

Foundation Fellows perform surgery under experienced supervision, do rounds of in-patients, conduct clinics and undertake research. They often come from overseas and take back their knowledge and skills to their homeland. (Cataract surgery is not readily available in many countries. This especially affects women, people in rural areas, and those who can’t read.) Our Fellows are one key factor in the Sydney Eye Hospital’s worldwide reputation for excellence.

Join us in supporting this research and the Sydney Eye Hospital’s many other programs dedicated to eye health and cutting-edge solutions to eye disease.