29 May 2018
Cataracts are the world’s leading cause of blindness and surgery to remove them is the most regularly performed operation in the UK with figures showing that around 300,000 procedures are carried out every year. Yet there are still thousands of people living in the shadows of cataracts.
As part of Cataract Awareness Month, which runs throughout June, eye experts are urging people to know the signs and to seek advice if they think they are developing cataracts.
Mr George Saleh, a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Spire Harpenden Hospital, explained that although cataracts are prevalent, they can be treated successfully to restore vision.
He said: “Cataract Awareness Month gives us a good opportunity to make people aware of the symptoms and impress upon them the need to have their eyes examined.”
“A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Basically the lens focuses light into a sharp image on the retina, which relays messages through the optic nerve to the brain. If the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the image you see will be blurry.”
Cataracts develop slowly and hence the symptoms are gradual in onset. The tell-tale signs include blurred or misty vision, glare or haloes around lights, poor vision in low light and faded colours. You may experience difficulty with reading and driving especially in low light. If you wear glasses, you may feel your lenses are constantly dirty and need cleaning.
In addition to causing problems with your vision, advanced cataracts may mask eye conditions that affect the retina and optic nerve such as diabetes, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Whilst most cataracts develop as a result of ageing, other causes included trauma, medications such as steroids, general health conditions such as diabetes and cataracts can also be inherited.
“Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear artificial one. In the past only monofocal replacement lenses were available - meaning these could fix your near or distant vision but not both. However, we now have multifocal lenses that can achieve both near and distance vision as well as ‘toric lenses’ that can correct astigmatism,” explained Mr Saleh.
Prior to the surgery, scans for evaluating the dimensions of the eye are carried out which help the surgeon to precisely calculate the power of the replacement lens required.
The surgery takes less than 20 minutes and is performed, in the vast majority of cases, under local anaesthetic. Patients are usually home within a few hours and an improvement in vision may be noticed within the first few hours and days after the surgery. It is advisable to take a week off work and most people can resume their normal day to day activities within two to four weeks.
“The latest innovations in cataract surgery allow a rapid restoration of sight, and allow patients to enjoy their hobbies and day-to-day life without the constant dependence on glasses and contact lenses,” added Mr Saleh.