Cataract surgery 

Introduction 

Cataracts: animation

This animation explains in detail what cataracts are and how they affect the eye. It also describes what happens during a cataract surgery, a procedure to remove the cataract.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

Living with low vision

Nearly two million people in the UK are affected by low vision, but with the right help your eyesight can be maximised

Cataract surgery is a procedure used to treat cataracts that are affecting your daily activities.

It is the most common operation performed in the UK, with more than 300,000 procedures carried out each year.

What are cataracts?

cataract is cloudiness of the lens (the normally clear structure in your eye which focuses the light). They can develop in one or both eyes.

The cloudiness can become worse over time, causing vision to become increasingly blurry, hazy or cloudy.

Most cataracts develop with age, although rarely babies are born with cataracts or children develop them while they are still young.

Read more about childhood cataracts or treating childhood cataracts.

These pages are about surgery for adults with cataracts.

When is cataract surgery recommended?

Minor cloudiness of the lens is a normal part of ageing. Significant cloudiness, or cataracts, generally get slowly worse over time and surgery to remove them is the only way to restore vision.

However, it's not necessary to have surgery if your vision is not significantly affected and you don't have any difficulties carrying out everyday tasks.

Cataract surgery is available on the NHS if they are making it difficult to carry out activities such as reading, driving and looking after someone under your care.

Read about when cataract surgery is carried out.

The operation

Cataract surgery is a relatively straightforward procedure that normally takes up to 30 to 45 minutes.

It is usually carried out as day surgery under local anaesthetic, which means you are awake during the procedure and you can go home on the same day.

During the operation, the surgeon makes a tiny incision (cut) in your eye so they can remove the affected lens. When the lens has been removed, the surgeon inserts a small plastic lens, called an intraocular implant or intraocular lens, in its place.

If you have cataracts in both eyes, this procedure will usually be carried out on separate occasions a few weeks apart. This gives the first eye time to heal and time for your vision to return.

Read more about how cataract surgery is performed.

Getting back to normal

You will normally be able to go home a few hours after having cataract surgery, although you will need to arrange for someone to collect you and take you home.

Take it easy for the first two or three days after the operation and make sure to use any eye drops you are given by the hospital.

You can carry on with most of your normal activities after cataract surgery, although you will need to avoid touching your eye or getting anything in it (such as soap and water) for a few weeks.

Read more about recovering from cataract surgery.

Results of cataract surgery

Most people will experience an improvement in their sight soon after cataract surgery, although your vision may be blurred for a few days.

Eventually, you will usually be able to:

  • see things in focus (although glasses are often needed)
  • look into lights without as much glare
  • tell the difference between colours, which will seem brighter

Most people need to wear glasses for near or distance vision (or both) after cataract surgery. This is because artificial lens implants cannot focus on a range of different distances.

Normally, the surgeon will aim for more focused distance vision, with dependence on reading glasses for close up work, although this depends on the strength of your glasses and individual circumstances.

With glasses, most people have a good enough level of vision to be able to drive and carry out everyday activities without difficulty.

Your vision may not be restored to normal if you also have another eye condition or in the rare event of a serious complication.

What are the risks?

The risk of serious complications as a result of cataract surgery is small.

The most common complication is a condition called posterior capsule opacification (PCO), which can cause your vision to become cloudy again. This is where a skin or membrane grows over the back of the lens implant months or years later.

If necessary, PCO can be treated with a simple laser eye surgery procedure to cut away the membrane.

Other complications are much rarer and can include:

  • tearing of the lens capsule (the "pocket" that holds the lens in place)
  • all or a bit of the cataract dropping into the back of the eye
  • inability to remove all of the cataract or insert a lens implant
  • infection or bleeding in the eye

Most complications that can potentially develop after cataract surgery can be treated with medication or further surgery, and don't usually have a long-term impact on your vision. However, there is a very small risk (around one in 1,000) of permanent loss of sight in the treated eye as a direct result of the operation.

Read more about the risks of cataract surgery.

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2014

Next review due: 12/03/2016

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User898961 said on 27 August 2014

I was absolutely appalled by the lack of care and organisation at RCHT for cataract surgery. The staff are rude and unhelpful and showed no consideration to the anxiety of the patient and the family. My mother has been worried sick about having this done and the fact her daughter is dying of cancer and she was left to sit alone whilst going through the most appalling time of her life shows how little care NHS staff give to patients. I appreciate staff are busy but they are in the wrong jobs if they have no compassion.

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kimorris said on 24 June 2014

My vision had been deteriorating for almost a year due to steroid use because of severe rheumatoid arthritis. As well as the cataracts I had a corneal problem and glaucoma. Surgery to fix the corneal problem was carried out in March and glaucoma now under control. Yesterday evening I had the first cataract surgery at Torbay hospital, pretty well painless I kept the eye patch on overnight as required. Upon waking this morning the improvement has been nothing short of incredible, everything sharper and colours more saturated. Though now retired I spent my whole working life as a professional photographer, my eyesight has always been very important to me. The surgeon thinks I may not need distance glasses anymore once the second eye has been done. Great staff at Torbay, cups of tea and biscuits on the table.

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Shirrmontana said on 30 August 2013

Being insulin dependant diabetic and having cataracts, the op wasn't as straight forward as the surgeon hoped, I was terrified even though I had asked for a general they refused and gave me a local, my heart was racing and the Dr's concerned. Because of how tense I was, the surgeon said it was difficult getting the new lens in, and eventually it had to be stitched in place. 4+ weeks down the line I still couldn't see properly, everything very blurry, went back to see the surgeon, he said the stitches needed to come out - which wasn't painful, just a little uncomfortable and the second he released the stitches everything went crystal clear. Seems the stitches had caused astigmatism. I'm waiting to hear when my next eye op will be but my surgeon has made notes on my records for GA only.

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