A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that may reduce your vision. The structure of the lens also changes as the cataract develops. There are different types of cataract, but the two main types are Age-related and Congenital cataracts. Congenital cataracts, those that have been present from birth, are uncommon but it is vital to diagnose these early, as otherwise the eye may not learn to see which could lead to blindness, even if the cataracts are removed later in life.
We do not yet know why age-related cataracts develop, but there are certain factors which increase your chances of developing them:
- Heavy drinking
- Use of certain medication e.g. long-term use of steroids
- Exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight (use of sunglasses which block out UVA and UVB rays may help prevent this)
- Family history of cataracts
Symptoms of cataracts include:
- Worsening of vision, this could appear cloudy, fuzzy or filmy
- Spots in your vision
- Double vision
- Glares and haloes from light
- Difficulty driving at night
- Difficulty in differentiating between colours, particularly shades of blue
- Frequent changes in prescription as eyesight worsens
- Temporary improvement in your close up vision, this is due to the lens changing shape
For many people, use of glasses and/or contact lenses will be sufficient to improve their vision, but cataracts are likely to worsen over time and so at some point it may be appropriate to consider surgery. The most common cataract surgery is phacoemulsification (small incision surgery), when the damaged lens is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial one.
After Cataract Surgery:
You should be able to go home on the same day as your cataract surgery.
You may have a pad and plastic shield over your eye when you leave hospital, which can usually be removed the day after surgery.
Feeling should start to return to your eye within a few hours of surgery, but it may take a few days for your vision to fully return.
It’s normal to have:
- blurred vision
- double vision
- red or bloodshot eye
These side effects usually improve within a few days but it can take 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully.
If you need new glasses, you won’t be able to order them until your eye has completely healed – usually after 6 weeks.
Cataract surgery has a high success rate in improving your eyesight and should allow you to return to your normal activities, like driving.
When to seek help
Contact your eye surgery department as soon as possible if you experience:
- increased pain and/or redness
- increased stickiness
- decreased vision
- use your eye drops as instructed
- take it easy for the first 2 to 3 days
- use your eye shield at night for at least a week
- take painkillers if you need to
- bathe or shower yourself as usual
- wear your eye shield when washing your hair
- read, watch TV and use a computer
- use your shield, old glasses or sunglasses outdoors
- avoid swimming for 4 to 6 weeks
- rub your eye
- allow soap or shampoo to get into your eye
- drive until you get the all-clear from your doctor
- do any strenuous exercise or housework
- wear eye make-up for at least 4 weeks
- fly without seeking advice from your doctor
You could arrange for someone to help take care of you until your vision returns, particularly if the vision in your other eye is poor.
If you work, how soon you can return will largely depend on your type of job and if you need new glasses.
Using your eye drops
Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given some eye drops to help your eye heal and prevent infection.
It’s important to use your eye drops as instructed by your doctor. Unless told otherwise, you should:
- start your drops the morning after the operation
- only use them on the operated eye
- wash your hands before using your drops
- don’t stop your eye drops without advice from your doctor
- don’t let anyone else use your eye drops
You’ll be advised further about the use of eye drops at your follow up appointment, usually 1 to 4 weeks after your operation.
At this appointment, you may be given advice on when to stop using your eye drops and when to apply for new glasses.
How to apply eye drops
- wash your hands
- tilt your head back
- look up at the ceiling
- gently pull down the lower lid
- squeeze the bottle until a drop goes into your eye
- close your eye and wipe away any excess liquid
- don’t let the bottle touch the eye
If you run out of the drops, contact your local GP for more. You’ll need to bring your eye drop bottle and discharge letter to your appointment.
How to clean your eye
- boil some water and allow it to cool
- wash your hands
- dip cotton wool or clean gauze in the cool boiled water
- gently wipe from the inside (near your nose) to the outside corner of your eye
- don’t wipe inside your eye
- don’t wash your eye out with water
- don’t press on your eye
During the first 2 weeks, you may need to clean your eye twice a day because the drops and the healing process can cause slight stickiness.
For more on cataracts go to the RNIB website.