Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye, which prevents the passage of light into the eye, causing blurred and clouded vision. Unlike many eye diseases however, vision loss due to cataracts can be restored with lens replacement surgery. Lens replacement surgery involves the removal of the deteriorated lens, which is then replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens or IOL.
While is it not uncommon to be a bit nervous in the time leading up to your surgery, most of our cataract patients would tell you that there is nothing to worry about as it is a completely painless and quick process. The entire surgery lasts only about 20 minutes and most patients can resume normal activities soon after.
Since cataracts are so prevalent in New Zealand, with over 30,000 cataract surgeries performed in New Zealand every year, as part of Cataract Awareness Month we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some common myths about cataracts for those considering cataract surgery and to set the record straight! To learn more about cataracts and cataract treatment read on...
Myth #1: Cataracts grow on the top of the eye
Although cataracts do grow over time, they don't grow on the top of the eye — they grow inside the eye. More specifically, they grow inside the eye's natural lens. There are different types of cataracts that grow on different parts of the lens, but it's all contained within the lens.
Myth #2 Cataracts only affect seniors
While most cataracts are related to the ageing process and are therefore very common in older people, cataracts can also form for other reasons as well. For example, those with health problems such as diabetes may develop cataracts when they are younger. In addition, cataracts can form as a result of severe trauma to the lens, caused by drugs, inflammation and injury.
In rare cases, a baby may be born with a cataract. This is usually due to an underlying genetic disorder, such as Down Syndrome, and can be easily corrected by replacing the cloudy lens with a new artificial one usually without any complication.
Myth #3: Cataracts can be removed with lasers
Lasers may be involved in the process of breaking up cataracts, but are not removed with lasers alone. Once the cataracts are broken up into small pieces with a laser (or high-frequency ultrasound device) the small fragments are then gently removed with suction. The surgeon then inserts a clear intraocular lens, positioning it securely behind the iris and pupil, in the same location your natural lens occupied.
Myth #4: Cataracts can grow back
Once the cataract has been broken up and removed from the eye, it cannot grow back. However, approximately 10% of patients may become aware of a gradual blurring of vision some months to even years after the surgery as a result of the thickening of the lens capsule that supports the artificial lens. If this occurs clear vision is often simply restored by laser treatment, called a capsulotomy, which can be completed during a short visit to the clinic.
Myth #5: Cataract surgery is painful
Prior to cataract surgery, the patient's eyes are completely numbed with anaesthetic eye drops, which means the patient will not experience any pain during the surgery. Additionally, a mild sedative may be given to the patient before the surgery to help the patient drift into a relaxed and comfortable state.
A special speculum is used to gently hold the eyes open during the procedure, but this does not hurt. The patient may feel a mild pressure sensation as the surgeon breaks up the lens, removes it and places in the intraocular lenses. However, these steps are not painful and occur very quickly.
During the recovery process, cataract patients normally do not experience any pain. However, as the numbing drops wear off shortly after the surgery the patient may experience mild discomfort. Before leaving Auckland Eye surgical, you will be given advice on how to handle any post-surgical discomfort to facilitate a comfortable recovery process.
Myth #6: You will be able to see during the surgery
Although the patient will be awake throughout the surgery and may be able to see some light and movement, the patient will not be able to see what is actually happening during the operation.
Myth #7: There is no need for glasses after cataract surgery
While this may be true for some individuals who opt for multifocal lens implants, it is not always possible. Traditional IOLs are monofocal, which means that they are only able to focus clearly at one visual point. If you choose a monofocal IOL, you may see clearly at some distances but still may require glasses for near vision tasks after cataract surgery. However, due to advances in ophthalmology technology, many premium IOLs are multifocal and can provide the ability to focus clearly at multiple distances and therefore remove or significantly reduce the need for glasses for many people.
In summary, some people will need glasses following cataract surgery, while others will not. The likelihood that you will need to wear glasses following your cataract surgery will depend on a number of factors including; the type of IOL selected, the overall health of your eye, your current prescription and your visual needs. Therefore, to help you achieve the best possible outcome, your ophthalmologist will discuss with you which IOL is most appropriate for your lifestyle and visual needs prior to the surgery.
How to Support Cataract Awareness Month
Support Cataract Awareness Month by sharing some of this information about cataracts and cataract surgery with the people you love. Most importantly, encourage your loved ones to get regular comprehensive eye exams to keep their vision healthy. If their ophthalmologist says that they are developing at cataract, encourage them to explore cataract surgery to restore their clear vision and reclaim their independence back! To book an appointment with one of our cataract specialists, call 0800 25 53 93.