Just because you have a cataract doesn't mean that you necessarily need an operation but there may be other eye conditions in addition to your cataract that need to be attended to with higher priority.
This is why you need a checkup with an eye care professional, such as your trusted optometrist or referral to an ophthalmologist, where you'll have a detailed examination from front to back [of the eye], and often additional imaging tests such as a retinal and optic nerve scan to ensure that other co-existing eye conditions are detected and treated appropriately.
The treatment of cataract should be tailored to the individual patient and their visual needs, rather than "a one size fits all" approach. People who rely heavily on their vision for work or hobbies, such as drivers, artists, or photographers for example, would benefit from cataract surgery much earlier than those who have much lower visual demands.
As far as a lifestyle enhancing procedure, cataract surgery is very safe and one of the most effective operations with a very high success rate. But as with any operation, there are risks involved with cataract surgery such as infection or bleeding.
Even if they do arise, most complications are very much treatable with medicine or another operation, but very very rarely, you can end up with worse vision.
So that's why I recommend to my patients, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If you are happy with your vision and cataracts are discovered by your optometrist then sometimes, we can afford to monitor through yearly checkups and wait to perform surgery once the cataracts become more advanced and start to actually cause visual symptoms.
One of the additional benefits with cataract surgery is that we remove the cloudy lens and the new lens implant we put in is tailored and customised to a person's eye shape and their desired visual focus. It can mean someone who has always needed prescription glasses for everything is no longer short-sighted for example.
However, a careful discussion needs to be had with your cataract surgeon about which lens option may be suitable for you, as there are pros and cons of any option.
What are cataracts?
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in our eye. If we think of our eye like a camera where the film in the camera is like the retina in the back of the eye, it means we need a clear lens in order to give us a nice bright image of our world.
There are many causes of cataracts, but the most common cause is due to ageing. Our lens over time gets more cloudy and yellow, and it blurs our vision. This is a process that takes years and because of the gradual nature most people don't realise they have a cataract until it starts impacting their quality of vision and quality of life.
Sometimes cataracts are detected by optometrists during an eye checkup. Some of the symptoms include increased glare and difficulty with night driving; reading street signs; trouble reading small print; or a person's vision is just not quite as clear as it used to be.
Surgery is the only effective way to treat the cataracts. It removes the cloudy lens and a new intraocular lens (IOL) is implanted which stays in permanently.
- Answer is provided by Sydney ophthalmologist Dr John Chang, through HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Submit questions, and find more answers, at healthshare.com.au.