What is a cataract?

A cataract is cloudiness of the lens inside the eye. The lens focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye. If it becomes cloudy, the light is unable to reach the retina and the vision is reduced. As the cloudiness of the lens becomes worse the vision becomes worse. Eventually the eye can become blind. Cataract surgery is performed at Hibiscus Private Hospital using the latest phacoemulsification technology.

The procedure, which sees the patient on their way home again in a few hours (in most cases) uses ultrasound waves to emulsify and remove the cataract. A tiny incision is made at the edge of the eye which allows for the replacement of the cataractus lens by a foldable lens that is introduced into the eye through the incision. Stiches are very seldom used with this new technique.

Here are some general facts about cataracts:

  • The results of cataract surgery are usually very successful, often resulting in restoration of vision within 24 hours.
  • Cataracts are due to the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye with age.
  • Cataracts can cause blurring, light sensitivity, halos and occasionally double vision in one eye.
  • Once cataract surgery has been performed, cataracts do not return. Occasionally, a thin membrane forms behind the implanted lens, which can be treated by laser.
  • Cataract surgery itself is not performed with a laser, but with ultrasound waves.
  • You should visit your opthalmologist for eye check-ups regularly, especially after 40 years.

What causes a cataract?

Old age is the commonest cause for cataract. In the same way that the hair becomes white in old age, the lens inside the eye may become cloudy.

There are a number of other causes of cataract. Some children may have cataract from birth. Diabetes may cause cataract. Trauma and inflammation of the eye may result in cataract.

What can I do to prevent Cataracts?

There are various way in which you can decrease the risk of developing cataracts. Some of them are:

  • If you are older than 60, you should have an eye examination at least once every two years;
  • Wear sunglasses or untinted prescription eyeglasses. Plastic lenses are slightly better than glass at blocking cataract-causing UVB rays;
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim whenever you are out in the sun;
  • Eat balanced and nutritious meals regularly; and
  • Stop smoking!

How can a cataract be treated?

There is no known way of preventing the development of cataract that occurs with old age. There is no medical treatment for cataract. Cataract can be treated and cured with surgery. The operation is done when the vision has deteriorated to the level that interferes with the person’s normal life. This may be different for different people.

The operation can be done under local anaesthetic. It can be done as day case surgery. It takes 15 – 30 minutes to complete the operation. The cataract is washed out and the lens is replaced with an artificial plastic lens. The vision is restored to normal after a few days or weeks.

More Information
Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness
P. O. Box 11149
Hatfield 0028
Pretoria, South Africa

Tel   : +27 12 452 3811
Email : jill@sancb.org.za
Web  : www.sancb.org.za

Many Thanks to The South African National Council for the Blind for supplying the content.