If you suffer from cataracts – a clouding of the lens inside the eye – your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it. In this post, we’ll explain more about what cataracts are, what causes them, and what you can expect from the treatment.
First, what are cataracts? A normal, healthy lens should be clear. Cataracts describe a condition in which eyes appear cloudy. Because they gradually develop over time, cataracts are most often seen in older patients. In fact, while there are several types, the most common kind of cataracts are those related to ageing.
The lens of the eye is made up mostly of water and protein. To remain clear, and transmit light properly to the back of the eye (the retina) the balance of proteins must remain very precise. Cataracts occur when changes in the protein structure, possibly because of nutrients and fluids building up as we age, coagulate on the lens. This bit of build-up, or opacity, blocks light from reaching the retina, resulting in reduced or blurry vision, as if through a bit of gauze fabric.
While researchers aren’t yet completely sure what causes this change to happen, smoking and diabetes are thought to be culprits, as well as the normal ‘wear and tear’ of the ageing process. Although there is no known prevention for them at present, it is advised to avoid such habits as smoking and drinking alcohol, and to protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays.
Diagnosing cataracts – what next?
Perhaps you’re already having trouble with cloudy vision, or maybe you’ve just booked in for a routine eye examination. In either case, your ophthalmologist will easily be able to spot a cataract if you have developed one. In fact, small cataracts can be detected before you even realise there may be a problem, though they may not need treatment straight away – the speed at which they affect the vision can vary from patient to patient.
Once cataract gets large enough that it begins to create issues with your vision, however, your doctor will recommend treatment: a short surgical procedure that involves replacing the natural lens of the eye with a plastic one. It’s a routine operation with a very successful track record, and one that you can have as a day patient, not requiring an overnight stay in hospital. What’s more, once you have the procedure, the cataract won’t come back again.
Naturally, many patients are keen to learn what they can expect from the surgery and afterwards. The procedure to implant the plastic artificial lens in place of the natural one being affected by cataracts on average takes only 10-20 minutes, and you will be able to go home after the treatment. After the new lens has been placed, you may not even need your glasses anymore, though this will depend on the type of plastic lens used, and you may still want to use reading glasses.
The lenses that ophthalmologists use in the surgery will likely last for your lifetime. Sometimes, though, the membrane behind the lens can get thicker over time and could require treatment. If you experience any problems with your vision or the lens itself after the procedure, be sure to speak with your ophthalmologist.
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