25.JUL.2019 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

Cataracts are responsible for over 50% of the world’s blindness, but this treatable condition is often misunderstood.

Cataracts are very common, particularly in older adults. A build-up of protein in your eyes prevents light from passing through the lens properly. Your vision becomes cloudy and blurry – symptoms that tend to worsen over time. Some people report it as being like looking through a dirty window. If your cataracts are very severe, a cloudy grey film might be visible across your eye when you look in the mirror.

Cataract
There are several types of cataracts:

  • Congenital cataracts, which occur at birth due to infection or injury, or during childhood.
  • Secondary cataracts, which happen as a result of other illnesses like diabetes, or as a side effect of medication.
  • Traumatic cataracts, which occur due to injury.
  • Age-related cataracts, which happen naturally with age.

Because cataracts tend to develop very slowly, you should visit your doctor or ophthalmologist to have your eyes tested if you begin to have symptoms. If the cataracts aren’t too severe, glasses might help for a while. However, many people with cataracts eventually need surgery to correct the problem.

Despite the fact that cataracts are so common, there are many misconceptions about the condition and about the surgery used to treat it. Here are the top 5.

1. Lasik surgery can fix cataracts

Laser vision surgeries usually focus on the cornea, which is the clear part at the front of your eye. While Lasik is versatile, and can be used to treat long-sighted and near-sighted patients, and those with astigmatism, it alone does not fix cataracts. As cataracts are the clouding of the lenses of your eyes, a targeted procedure to break down and remove the cloudy lens is necessary. Recent developments in cataract surgery have introduced laser elements to the process to help create the wounds, access the lens and fragment the cataract. This femto-assisted surgery does increase the cost, and it doesn’t always improve results as compared to conventional cataract surgery.

2. Cataract surgery is risky, and you’ll be not be able to see properly for a long time

Cataract surgery risk
Cataract surgery is very safe and is performed by ophthalmologists all the time. The World Health Organisation estimates that in 2020, 32 million cataract surgeries will be performed. Statistics show that over 95% of these surgeries are successful. Cataract surgery is usually performed in an outpatient clinic and doesn’t require a hospital stay or a long convalescence period. Many patients see relatively well the next day after surgery. Though it may take a few days for your vision to completely return, recovery is usually smooth and relatively painless.

3. Cataracts get worse if you use a computer a lot or read in low light

Cataracts do not develop with overuse of your eyes. If you already have cataracts, you might notice the cloudy effect more when carrying out close-up work or using your eyes to read or focus in dim light. This will not make the cataracts worse. Researchers are still not totally certain why some people develop cataracts more quickly and others less, but there is no evidence to suggest that doing close-up work has any effect on the progression of the condition.

4. You can get special eye drops to dissolve cataracts

Cataract eye drops
Cataracts are not a substance that can be dissolved. Some pharmaceutical companies sell eye drops that claim to reduce or get rid of cataracts all together. This is a myth. Cataracts cannot be reversed with or without approved eye drops at this moment. The only way to treat them is to remove your lens surgically and replace it. Your doctor will provide you with eye drops to use during your recovery, but these are simply to reduce inflammation, prevent infection, soothe your eyes and keep them lubricated.

5. Cataracts grow back after surgery

Cataracts are not a growth. As cells in your lens die or are damaged, the excess proteins lead to cloudiness in your lens. During cataract surgery, your natural lens are removed and replaced with an artificial lens, which will not form cataracts. Sometimes patients experience some cloudiness after cataract surgery known as capsular opacification. This can be treated with a quick laser procedure and is not the return of your cataracts.

There is no certain way to prevent cataracts, but getting regular eye exams can help you remain aware of your eye health. This is especially important if your family has a history of eye problems. Take notice when things are changing and if you do develop cataracts, talk to your ophthalmologist about ways to aid your eyesight while the problem isn’t too severe. Reading glasses and extra lights in your working areas can often help you cope when the cataracts aren’t at an advanced stage. If you do need surgery, worry not. Despite the myths that surround cataract surgery, it is a simple and safe procedure that can give you your vision back.

If you need more information on cataract and treatment options, consult an eye specialist.

 

Article reviewed by Dr Chng Nai Wee, ophthalmologist at Parkway East Hospital

Reference

Boyle, E. (2011) Worldwide need for cataract surgery projected to rapidly grow in next 10 years. Retrieved 17/06/19 from https://www.healio.com/ophthalmology/cataract-surgery/news/print/ocular-surgery-news-asia-pacific-edition/%7B8f59f0ca-845e-4cd6-b788-7bf7a70e9ce8%7D/worldwide-need-for-cataract-surgery-projected-to-rapidly-grow-in-next-10-years

Cataract Facts and Myths. (2013, July 10) Retrieved 17/06/19 from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/cataract-facts-myths

Kozarsky, A. (2019, March 13) Cataract Symptoms. Retrieved 17/06/19 from https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/cataracts/symptoms-of-cataracts-when-to-call-the-doctor#2

Priority Eye Diseases (ND) Retrieved 17/06/19 from https://www.who.int/blindness/causes/priority/en/index1.html

Thompson, V. (2018) Cataract Surgery: Everything You Need To Know. Retrieved 17/06/19 from https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/cataract-surgery.htm

25.JUL.2019
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Chng Nai Wee
Ophthalmologist
Parkway East Hospital

Dr Chng Nai Wee is an ophthalmology (eye) specialist practising at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and Parkway East Hospital, Singapore. His clinical interests are in complex cataract and refractive cataract surgery, eyelid surgery, LASIK, and presbyopia treatment.