Cataracts are a common eye condition. As you get older the lens inside your eye gradually changes and becomes less transparent and this affects your ability to see.
When the lens becomes cloudy, light struggles to pass directly through it and you may notice problems with your vision. A cataract is not a growth or a film growing over your eye; it is simply your lens becoming misty.
There are a number of symptoms including:
The most common reason for cataracts is growing older, when natural changes within the lens occur. Most people over the age of 65 have some changes in their lens and the majority of us will develop a cataract in time. Other common causes of cataracts include: diabetes, medications such as steroid eye drops, and previous eye surgery. There is research into other factors which may affect cataract development such as: smoking, lifelong exposure to sunlight, poor diet lacking antioxidant vitamins. In general, the reason for the cataract will not affect the way it is removed.
If you suspect that you have a cataract you will need a professional eye examination by your optician or ophthalmologist (after a referral by your GP). If your vision can be corrected to an acceptable level with glasses or contact lenses, surgery may be avoided at this time. If your vision loss cannot be corrected by the above measures and if this interferes with your daily life (driving, watching television, hobbies) then your cataract will need to be removed surgically.
Cataract surgery is the removal of the cataract and insertion of an artificial lens called an Intraocular Lens Implant (IOL) into the eye. It is the most successful and most frequently performed operation in the UK with over 325,000 cases annually. More than 90 per cent of patients operated on have a significant improvement in their vision. The operation can be performed at any stage of cataract development. There is no need to wait until your cataract is “ripe” before removing it. Most people choose to have their cataracts removed when the change in their vision starts to cause them difficulties in everyday life, such as driving, cooking, or reading.
Cataract surgery usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes and most people go home from hospital about 1-2 hours later. It is done under local anaesthetic, which means you will be awake during the operation but you will not feel any pain. The local anaesthetic may involve eye drops and/or an injection. It is a day case procedure which means you will not need to stay in hospital overnight.
Patients often report an almost overnight improvement in their eyesight, with many returning to activities such as driving and reading with no further eye problems. Many people who have had cataract surgery also find that they rely less on glasses.
The risk from cataract surgery is very low (< 1%) and complications are very rare. After the operation you will be sent home with care instructions and you will need to put drops into your eyes for a few weeks. Provided you follow the advice given to you after cataract surgery your recovery should be complete and complication-free.
A pre-operative assessment is our opportunity to ensure that the procedure for which you have been referred is right for you. We’ll explain your treatment to you and makes sure that you are well enough to go ahead with it. It is also your opportunity to meet the team who will care for you and to ask any questions.
Where cataract surgery is not available on the NHS, or where the number of NHS procedures available has been reduced and has resulted in a longer waiting time, you can choose to pay for your treatment yourself via our self-pay option. You may also want to explore privately funding your treatment for other reasons which are personal to your circumstances.
Self-pay is available if you find you are not eligible for NHS-funded care and do not have private medical insurance.
You will need an open referral letter from your optician or ophthalmologist (we can help you with this). Because we don’t include all of the costly extras you may associate with private hospital treatment, paying for yourself could cost you considerably less than you might imagine it too. There are also financing options available, to help you spread the cost.
We continue to support NHS England during the Coronavirus crisis by providing the additional capacity it needs to treat non COVID-19 patients, but are now planning a gradual return to treating our own elective patients.