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A patient's guide to eye surgery sponsored by the London Eye Hospital

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London Eye Hospital, a dedicated ophthalmic hospital treating all eye conditions, with state-of-the-art facilities in Harley Street and Wimpole Street.
Eye surgery

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Cataracts Surgery Guide


What are cataracts?

Cataracts are a common problem across the world, with 10 million cataracts removed every year. Cataracts appear as opaque or cloudy patches in the eye lens that can blur your vision and reduce the amount of light entering your eye. They often develop slowly, and can be tolerated for a time before the reduced vision becomes a serious problem and impacts on daily life, especially activities such as driving.

Who do cataracts affect?

Cataracts commonly occur in older people, with around half of all over 65’s experiencing some degree of cataract. However, cataracts can develop at any time, and you can even be born with them. It is essential that childhood cataracts are treated quickly as they can lead to blindness, even if the cataracts are subsequently removed.

Your risk of developing cataracts is increased by various factors such as:

  • Smoking.
  • Poor diet.
  • Long term steroid use.
  • Family history of cataracts.

Cataracts can also develop as a result of an eye injury or because of diseases that impact on the eyes. Diabetes, for example, is a significant cause of cataracts in younger people.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

You may not notice cataracts in the early stages, and they are often detected by an optician during a routine eye test before you are aware of them yourself. Since cataracts develop slowly over time, you may automatically compensate for the slight blurring or ignore it at first. However, as the cataracts develop, you will notice your vision deteriorating and you may become aware of cloudy areas in your field of view. The size and number of these patches will gradually increase until the quality of your vision is significantly reduced.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Blurred or cloudy vision.
  • Spots in your visual field.
  • Difficulty seeing in dim or very bright light.
  • ‘Starburst’ effects around bright light sources.
  • Colours appearing faded.
  • A yellow tinge to your sight.
  • Glasses seem less effective than they used to be.

How are cataracts diagnosed?

Your optometrist will examine your eyes using an instrument called an opthalmascope. This allows them to see into the eye and establish the extent of your cataracts. In severe cases, cataracts can be seen with the naked eye without needing special equipment.

Surgery for cataracts

Once a lens starts to develop cataracts, the process is irreversible. Cataracts cannot be treated with medicines or eye drops, and the only option is surgery. However, cataract surgery is a very common operation, with around a third of a million cataract operations performed annually in the UK alone.

Cataract surgery involves the removal of the cloudy lens, and the insertion of an artificial lens in its place. Cataract surgery is done under local anaesthetic, with a cut of just 3mm made in the eye. The faulty lens is broken up using an ultrasonic probe and the debris sucked out before the new lens is inserted through the same opening.

Cataract surgery is a very safe and successful procedure, with few risks or complications.

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