Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Cataracts

What Exactly are Cataracts? It has been estimated that a third of people over 65 years of age in ...

What Exactly are Cataracts?

It has been estimated that a third of people over 65 years of age in the UK & Ireland have cataracts at any one time and are seeking help and advice from their GP. This common condition is caused by changes in how the cells in the lens of the eye are arranged and their water content stopping light from passing directly through and impairing the vision. Sufferers will begin to notice their vision gradually becoming misty and cloudy until, if left untreated, it will be like looking at the world through a heavy net curtain or frosted window.

The most common factor in developing cataracts is age related although other causes can include diabetes, trauma, and medication such as steroids and undergoing eye surgery for other conditions; some experts in the field have also suggested that lifestyle choices such as smoking, a poor diet lacking in antioxidant vitamins and a lifelong exposure to the sun can also play a part.

What To Look Out For

Symptoms will commonly include the eyesight becoming increasingly washed out and opaque and those who wear glasses may find themselves thinking that the lenses are dirty when they are not. Another widely experienced symptom in those who develop cataracts in one eye before the other will be that things can seem to be tinged with a yellow hue. This is due to vision through the impaired eye comparing what is seen through the good eye.

Initially the patient should book an appointment with their optician to confirm that cataracts are the problem; they will then be referred to their GP or eye clinic for further treatment.

The Pre-operative Schedule

Many believe that a cataract is an actual growth or film over the lens which can only be removed when it is ‘ripe’; this is not the case and the patient can choose to opt for removal whenever they feel the time is right. Most decide to have the operation as soon as their day to day life is affected by their lack of vision and they are experiencing difficulties with reading, cooking, getting around or having problems with bright lights; the optician will be able to offer advice as to when may be the best time.

Initially, an outpatient appointment should be made at the hospital or eye clinic where the eyes will be examined and the patient will have the opportunity to discuss their options with the optometrist. This is also a good time to ask any questions about the procedure which may be worrying you and, for drivers, to confirm whether or not their vision is within safe driving limits.

A pre-surgical assessment will take place when the ophthalmologist will conduct a full health check and carefully measure the eye using a special machine which will evaluate the length of the eyeball and the shape of the front of the eye. This is designed to help him decide which lens to implant to provide the best possible results for the patient. For the patient who has cataracts in both eyes, it is at this stage that the ophthalmologist will select which eye to operate on in the initial procedure; generally it will be whichever is deemed to be the worst.

The Cataract Removal Procedure

The actual procedure will normally take from 30-40 minutes and is performed under a local anaesthetic, allowing the patient to be pain free but conscious. Drops are used to dilate the pupils before a sheet is placed over the patient’s face to keep the surrounding area sterile during the operation. Referred to as phacoemulsification, the process of removing the lens and cataract is conducted through high frequency sound waves which break down the unwanted tissue. As the surgeon will use only minute cuts, there will be no need for stitches, ensuring a rapid recovery period.

The lens comprises different layers, the outer known as the capsule. The surgeon will cut through the capsule, performing what is called a capsulotomy, to access the lens before using the high frequency laser probe to break up the lens and cataract before removing them with suction. Keeping the lens capsule in place, he will reposition the artificial lens inside the capsule before ensuring that all has been successful and applying a dressing.

Most patients will leave the hospital or clinic 1-2 hours following the operation for recuperation at home.

Options for Cataract Removal Provision

With thousands of cataract removal operations being conducted through public health care clinics every year and the increasing pressure being put on the service, many are now opting to have their surgery performed at a time of their choosing through a private provider. There are a number of clinics which offer the operation including High Street locations such as Optimax who provide cataract removal and RLE (reflective lens exchange) through bladeless laser technology for around €2000 an eye.

For those who prefer the highest levels of technology currently available, many clinics offer cataract removal procedures using the Femtosecond laser technique which allows the surgeon to create all of the initial surgical incisions, the capsulotomy and the breaking down of the lens and cataract with this innovative tool. A femtosecond is one quadrillionth or one-millionth-of-a-billionth of a second which equals the speed at which the laser pulses! However this ground-breaking technology comes at a cost with most clinics offering monofocal lens implants from around €5000 an eye.

– This was a guest contribution by Clinic Compare who specialise in providing its visitors with free quotes for laser eye surgery in the UK & Ireland. In addition to this they provide a wealth of information on a range of different laser eye treatments.

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