If you’ve just been told you have cataracts, you’ll be reassured to know that cataracts are one of those eye conditions that cause vision loss which can be easily reversed through cataract surgery. But although cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed procedures in the world, choosing to put your eyes under the knife is no inconsequential decision.
As with most, if not all, invasive medical procedures, cataract surgery has benefits but also risks. In consultation with your healthcare team, it’s up to you to decide whether the cataract surgery benefits outweigh the potential risk of complications or side effects.
Cataract Surgery Benefits
The most obvious of all the cataract surgery benefits is having your sight restored. A cataract is an opacity or haze in the crystalline lens of your eye. This lens should be clear and transparent to allow light to pass through, which is vital for sharp vision. Eye conditions blocking this passage of light, such as a cataract or even something else like a scar on the cornea, won’t cause total blindness but can significantly reduce the quality of your vision.
Depending on the density and location of your cataract, you may feel your eyesight is only slightly compromised or it may be significantly impaired. Once the cataract has been removed, light can pass through the lens unhindered, restoring your vision to the level of clarity you had before the cataract began developing. You may also find colours look much brighter and more intense as well as your contrast vision improved. This may be apparent during situations such as driving in overcast or rainy conditions or trying to read a menu in a dimly lit restaurant.
During cataract surgery, the entire crystalline lens is removed from the eye and replaced with an artificial lens implant known as an intraocular lens. In many cases, particularly if you have your surgery with a private ophthalmologist, this intraocular lens may be calculated to correct your prescription. This leads us to another major plus of cataract surgery – you may no longer need to depend on glasses or contact lenses after your operation. There are various types of intraocular lens implants that suit different lifestyles, vocations, and hobbies, and can reduce the amount of time you need to wear glasses.
For example, you may choose to have an intraocular lens that corrects for your long-distance sight, meaning you wear glasses only for near work such as reading, computers, or sewing.
Alternatively, you may opt for a more premium multifocal intraocular lens.
This may provide you sufficient reading vision for you to very rarely need to put any glasses on at all, perhaps just for reading very fine print or in low lighting conditions.
Cataract Surgery Risks
Cataract surgery is typically considered an uncomplicated, effective procedure with a high safety profile. However, it is not without a potential for adverse side effects.
The most commonly encountered side effects are minor, such as increased glare sensitivity or dry eye, which tend to self-resolve over a number of months. These conditions simply need some support in the interim, such as using darker sunglasses or lubricant drops. You may also be aware of little floating specks or lines in your vision from natural debris inside the vitreous gel of the eyeball.
Some people may be disappointed by their eyesight after their surgery if it is not as good as they were hoping. This can be due to various factors, which include misguided expectations, inaccurate calculations of the intraocular lens, or if there are other undetected or poorly managed eye conditions that may be limiting the vision.
However, there is also a small risk of a more serious complication occurring either during the surgery itself or during the recovery period. These include an eye infection inside the eyeball known as endophthalmitis, which can have devastating visual consequences if not treated promptly. Other potential risks of cataract surgery include a retinal detachment, swelling of the macula (known as cystoid macular oedema), increased eye pressure and glaucoma, or if a fragment of the cataract is left behind in the eye. Other adverse effects include prolonged pain and inflammation of the eye, swelling of the cornea, or bleeding inside the eye.
Most of these potential complications can be treated or managed successfully, whether by your original cataract surgeon or another specialist ophthalmologist.
Am I Ready for Cataract Surgery?
In the majority of cases, people with visually significant cataracts will decide that the cataract surgery benefits far outweigh the likelihood of complications. Your treating ophthalmologist will perform a thorough examination to ensure your cataracts are suitable for removal. During their assessment, they will also be able to determine whether you have any other factors or eye conditions that mean they need to be more cautious when proceeding with cataract surgery.
Though you should be largely guided by your optometrist or ophthalmologist and their expertise, you may decide that your eyesight is not bad enough to warrant surgery at this point in time, which is valid. If you feel you are still comfortable with driving and daily tasks, you may ask your health professional if it is safe to defer cataract surgery until your vision deteriorates further.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.