A cataract exists when the natural crystalline lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque over time, leading to blurring and a gradual loss of visual clarity.
Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed elective procedure in the world, with around 300,000 treatments undertaken every year in the UK alone. David Gartry now performs laser-assisted cataract surgery, known as femto-phako, which is the most advanced cataract surgery technique currently available.
Most cataracts develop in later life, although they can sometimes be present at birth, be drug-induced or develop after injury to the eye. Mild clouding of the lenses is common in people of all ages, although surgery is not required if vision remains unaffected. Some people are unaware that cataracts are developing – it is often a very slow process that starts at the edge of the lens and may not initially affect vision.
Surgery is performed when clouding becomes noticeable and starts to impede the patient’s daily life. There are a number of factors that will affect the timing of surgery, such as occupation, night-driving difficulties, general glare or scattering of light, and how well the patient can read a standard eye-test chart.
Typical early symptoms of cataract are light scatter, (e.g. dazzle from oncoming car headlights during night driving) and a progressive shift towards short sight (changing spectacle prescription). Later, vision becomes blurry and colours are dulled.
A cataract in a patient characterised by the blurred, grey opaque appearance
It is no longer considered necessary or desirable to wait until a cataract has fully developed (by which time the patient would have been eligible for registration as blind) before undergoing surgery. However, waiting for cataract surgery does not harm the health of your eye, and equally good results can be obtained from cataract surgery performed at an early or a later stage.