As the human eye ages, it is very common for the lens inside the eye that focuses light to become cloudy. This dysfunctional lens is called a cataract.

When the lens becomes opaque, the amount of light that passes through it is reduced and scattered, and the image cannot be correctly focused on the retina at the back of the eye. Early on as the change is usually gradual you may not notice the change in vision. As the cataract progresses you may experience blurred vision, glare, halos or streaks in your vision or difficulty seeing at night. Usually both eyes are affected though one eye can be worse than the other.

Although the exact mechanism by which cataracts develop is not understood, some of the associated factors which are strongly related to cataracts include:

Age: the older a person becomes the more likely it is that one will develop cataracts. In fact, some degree of cataract is found in most patients over the age of 70 or 80. It is not uncommon to find some degree of cataract in patients in their 50s and 60s.

Sunlight exposure (UVB): there is a strong relationship between the amount of UVB exposure during one’s lifetime and the later development of cataracts.

Other diseases: The incidence of cataracts is higher in countries where malnutrition and general gastro-intestinal diseases (diarrhoea and vomiting) are more common.

It is important to understand that a cataract almost never causes damage inside the eye and just blocks out vision progressively as it becomes cloudier. However, whatever vision is going to return with removal of the cataract today will be the same in five years time unless some new disease develops in the eye. This means that the removal of a cataract is a very elective procedure as the cataract does not cause irreversible blindness in an eye. The time to remove a cataract is when it is interfering with vision sufficiently that the patient is no longer able to perform and function as they would like.

A change in glasses from your optometrist may help to improve vision early on, but as the cataract worsens the only way to improve the vision is with an operation. Cataract surgery is the operation performed that removes your cloudy lens and replaces it with a clear acrylic lens. This is the most commonly performed operation in the world.

Modern surgery uses very small sutureless incisions, a specialized “phacoemulsification” machine to dissolve the cataract and special lenses that unfold inside the eye. This is performed as a day procedure at the Southbank Day Hospital. QEI specializes in providing advanced cataract surgery with internationally trained subspecialist surgeons using the latest technology and equipment.

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