31 May Cataracts
What are cataracts?
Cataracts are generally a normal ageing process, whereby the the crystalline lens inside the eye becomes cloudy and hazy.
While it does tend to blur one’s vision, this vision loss is usually not permanent.
People often describe the effect of cataract as having a ‘film’ over their eye, or having foggy vision-as though looking through a foggy window.
Cataracts and glasses
Often the first effect of a cataract is to cause a shift in one’s glasses prescription, i.e. more long-sighted or short-sighted, so the initial blurriness can be easily rectified with updated glasses. Sunglasses or transition lenses are recommended to improve visual comfort and reduce glare while outdoors. As the cataract develops and the lens becomes more cloudy, it becomes more difficult to improve the vision with new glasses, at which point cataract surgery may be recommended.
Cataract surgery is a very common procedure, whereby the majority of the patient’s own crystalline lens is removed and replaced with a clear
‘Intraocular Lens Implant’, often leaving patients with better vision than they had even before the cataract developed.
The modern and most widely used method is called ‘Phacoemulsification’. It is usually done under local anaesthetic and is a day procedure.
General anaesthetic is less commonly used due to the many side effects, but may be used under special circumstances.
In Ireland, cataract surgery can be carried out on the medical card, or in public hospitals, via your GP.
The waiting list is approximately 12 to 18 months, so prompt referral from your optometrist is vital.
Cataract surgery costs approx €3,000 per eye, and many opt to have it performed under their private health insurance scheme, where the waiting lists are much shorter.
While cataract surgery is predominantly a very successful operation, most patients require a simple ‘top-up’ laser procedure 1 to 5 years following the operation.
This occurs when the very back layer of the crytalline lens (which is not removed during initial surgery) becomes cloudy.
This is a short 5-10 minute procedure and is normally carried out in the examination room.
While the normal ageing process is the most common cause of cataracts in Ireland, they can also develop through type 1 diabetes,
traumatic eye injuries, or excessive sun exposure. Factors that can speed up the development of cataracts are certain medications (eg. steroids) and type 2 diabetes.