Health And Lifestyle For The Over 50s

Cataract Surgery: The Facts


There was a time when cataract surgery was delayed until a patient could hardly see. Fortunately those days are gone, and procedures are now available on the NHS at any time during the development of a cataract. The NHS proviso on when surgery is offered is ‘when cataracts are affecting your ability to carry out daily activities’.



NHS Criteria and Private Options

NHS Choices set out the following criteria to help you recognise cataract symptoms:

  • You may find it more difficult to see in dim or very bright light.
  • The glare from bright lights may be dazzling.
  • Colours may look faded or less clear.
  • Everything may have a yellow or brown tinge.
  • You may have double vision.
  • You may see a halo (a circle of light) around bright lights, such as car headlights or street lights.
  • If you wear glasses, you may find that they become less effective over time.

According to statistics, 300,000 cataract procedures are carried out in the UK each year, so waiting lists are inevitable. Some people choose to pay privately for their cataract surgery so that they can schedule it at a convenient time. The fees for private treatment vary:

  • Nuffield Health Hospitals charge approximately £2,420 per eye, and this figure includes after-care. The consultation fee is extra at around £180. Nuffield also give a price match promise.
  • BUPA-on-Demand fees are £2,505 for unilateral and £3,875 for bilateral surgery, plus a £310 consultation fee.
  • Harley Street clinics charge around £3,400 per eye – consultation fees are extra.

Your optometrist is the best person to help you decide upon the timing of cataract surgery, and will refer you to the eye clinic for an outpatient appointment. You will be given an eye examination and general health check to determine the type of lens implant needed to maximise your future vision.

Cataract Surgery: What to Expect

Surgery to remove the cataract and implant the new lens takes about 30 minutes and is usually carried out with local anaesthetic. You will be awake throughout and able to communicate with the surgical team, but will feel no pain. Following surgery, your eye will be examined to ensure the implant has been a success. You will be able to go home shortly afterwards.

In many cases, people notice that their sight is much improved almost immediately but as the eye needs to recover from the surgery, vision may be blurred for a few days. You will be given two kinds of eye drops – an antibiotic drop to prevent infection and a steroid to help reduce swelling. There are a few things you need to avoid following cataract surgery:

  • Rubbing your eye
  • Swimming – as the water could cause infection
  • Heavy lifting
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Wearing eye make-up
  • Getting soapy water in your eye

Six weeks after surgery, you will have a follow-up appointment with the ophthalmologist. Many people will still need glasses because artificial lens implants cannot focus on the full range of distances.

Possible Complications

Cataract surgery is a very safe procedure, with only about three percent of people experiencing complications. Mostly these can be dealt with and don’t affect sight in the long term.

One possible complication is called posterior capsule opacification and is caused by a membrane growing over the back of the lens implant. This can cause vision to become cloudy, and may develop months or even years after surgery. It can be corrected with a minor laser procedure, usually at an outpatient clinic.

Other complications are rare but can include:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Infection following surgery
  • A break in the lens capsule
  • All or part of the lens dropping into the back of the eye

These complications can usually be treated with medication or further surgery, but it should be noted that there is a risk ― approximately one in 1,000 ― of permanent loss of sight in the treated eye as a result of cataract surgery.

With advancing years various other eye conditions may crop up and cataract surgery could be recommended if you have another eye condition that cannot be treated while you have cataracts.

Your ophthalmologist will be able to give you individual advice, but other channels of support are available. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the RNIB have joined forces to produce an information page.  The RNIB Helpline is 0303 123 9999.