Your complete guide to cataract surgery

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Your complete guide to cataract surgery

Your eyes are one of your most important assets – in fact, sight is our dominant sense. We rely on sight to process crucial information about our environment.

As we age, our eyesight deteriorates – and the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40 is cataracts. It is so common that cataract is one of the three leading causes of blindness among Australians aged 55 or more. Cataract surgery is simple, relatively painless and a very successful way of restoring vision.

We want you to understand cataracts better, including treatment options and answers to the questions we commonly get asked by patients.

This complete guide to cataract surgery will cover the following questions:

What is a cataract?

A cataract is the term given when a natural eye lens becomes cloudy, causing a blockage or change to the way light enters the eye. When an eye lens becomes cloudy it causes your vision to become blurry or dim, because the lens is unable to focus images properly onto the retina. It usually happens in both eyes, but not necessarily at the same rate.

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What causes cataracts?

We have yet to find the exact cause of cataracts, outside of the aging process. As you grow older, your body begins to struggle with cellular regeneration, and old cells in the eye begin to build up in the lens and block light.

There are other factors that can increase your risk of developing cataracts, including:

  • Hereditary/family predisposition
  • Certain medications, including hormone replacement therapy, long-term steroid use etc.
  • High myopia
  • Significant alcohol consumption
  • Eye injuries or diseases
  • Smoking
  • Inflammation or infections in the eye
  • Systemic diseases of the body, such as diabetes, hypertension, metabolic disorders etc.
  • Long-term exposure to UV rays, other forms of radiation, or intense heat

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

  • Blurred, hazy or double vision
  • Your pupil has a noticeable milky or yellowish spot
  • Light seems dim when reading or doing close-up work
  • You see ‘ghost’ images or feel like you are seeing through a filter
  • Strong/glaring light feels overwhelming.

How do we remove cataracts with surgery?

Your eye surgeon will simply remove your natural clouded lens, and replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL).

Is cataract surgery covered by medical insurance?

Cataract surgery is covered by Medical insurance, however this depends on the level of cover you have with your health fund. We are able to perform a health fund check for you upon inquiry to see whether you are eligible to have your surgery covered by your health insurance provider.

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Can you drive a car with cataracts?

Small changes to your vision can affect your ability to read road signs, see hazards, identify signals like traffic lights, judge gaps or safely change lanes or merge into traffic. Every person’s cataract is different and If you develop a visual impairment you must notify your state road authority.

Does cataract surgery eliminate the need for glasses?

Modern cataract surgery reduces the need for wearing glasses. If presbyopia-correcting (intraocular lenses) IOLs are right for you, you may not need vision aids after surgery, but this is not the case for all patients. Some patients require different prescriptions post-surgery, as they may need progressive lenses to correct mild residual refractive errors as a result of the procedure.

Does cataract surgery need to be repeated?

No, cataract surgery doesn’t need to be repeated. Your cataracts won’t grow back because the artificial intraocular lenses can’t form cataracts, therefore the surgery won’t need to be repeated.

How dangerous is cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most frequently performed surgical procedures in Australia. The procedure is simple, very low-risk and has a success rate of more than 98%. You may feel mild discomfort during the procedure, but the awkward sensation doesn’t last for long.

How do people with cataracts see?

Some people may only have mild vision impairment from cataracts, such as sensitivity to bright or dim light. Other people can have varying degrees of blurred or double vision, which could cause problems for their occupation, or tasks such as driving.

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Can you see during cataract surgery?

Yes, you can see during cataract surgery. The procedure is simple and relatively short, anaesthetic drops will be applied to your eyes to prevent discomfort.

Why am I so tired after cataract surgery?

Our bodies do a remarkable job at healing themselves. It’s perfectly normal to feel tired after surgery, your energy is being used to heal, so relax and take it easy.

Can cataracts return after surgery?

Once the cataract has been completely removed with surgery it cannot return. During the cataract surgery, your surgeon will replace your clouded lens with a clear synthetic lens. The procedure won’t affect how your eyes look physically and will improve your vision permanently.

However, the original lens capsule which is not removed can become slightly opaque over time, this can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a cataract returning. This clouding of the lens capsule is easily treated with an outpatient procedure known as a YAG Laser Capsulotomy

Can you exercise after cataract surgery?

Most people can return to their normal activities the day after surgery, however it’s best to follow your surgeon’s advice regarding your specific circumstances. Rubbing or getting anything in your operated eye (including water) can increase the chance of infection. It is best to avoid swimming for two weeks and avoid contact sports for one month after your procedure.

How long after cataract surgery can I see?

Your vision is likely to be cloudy for the remainder of the day after your cataract surgery. It’s important to relax and rest. You can return to most of your usual activities the day after, in fact 90% of visual recovery occurs within the first 24 hours.

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What causes blurred vision after cataract surgery?

It is not uncommon for some patients to experience some glare or haloes around lights after cataract surgery, especially due to headlight reflections when driving. Sometimes blurred vision can be due to a lens error, dry eyes, or from swelling in the retina (rare).

It is also possible that the shell of the old lens which remains to support the artificial lens implant, may not be perfectly clear or may become cloudy over time. This shell may be treated with a laser to remove the cloudiness.

It’s important to follow your surgeon’s post-surgery care plan to ensure your eyes heal quickly and properly.

Can you wear contacts after cataract surgery?

Wearing contact lenses after cataract surgery is typically not an issue, provided your eyes have had enough time to heal.

Can secondary cataracts come back?

Secondary cataracts are when the posterior lens capsule becomes cloudy, mimicking the symptoms of a cataract returning. This clouding of the lens capsule is easily treated with an outpatient procedure known as a YAG Laser Capsulotomy.

Can you prevent cataracts?

While we can’t stop the aging process in the body, we can look after our general health and wellbeing to try to reduce the risk of developing cataracts early. Some studies have suggested that having a diet containing fruits and vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and carotenoids may reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

Can you reverse cataracts without surgery?

While there have been terrific advancements in the field of medicine over the last 10 years, we still can’t cure or reverse cataracts without surgery.

Some patients can improve their sight using new glasses with stronger prescriptions, but it won’t fix their cataracts. A compound was discovered in 2015 that, when used in eye-drops, can reduce the severity of cataracts – but it is not a cure.

Patients with more advanced cases of cataracts will find that visual aids do very little to help correct their sight.

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Do cataracts cause light sensitivity?

Yes, it can. You might find it hard to read in dim light, or you may find bright light overwhelming.

How much does cataract surgery cost?

It depends if you go through the private or public healthcare system. Medicare will cover you through the public healthcare system, but private costs depend on your surgeon, and whether you have insurance (and any gap-fees associated with your cover)

This article is not a substitute for a consultation with your surgeon. Before choosing to proceed with laser eye surgery your surgeon will have a detailed discussion with you about the right procedure and about the potential complications.