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Mark Westcott

Firstly, don’t worry – they are, as we explained above, very common. However, cataracts cannot be treated with drops or medicines. The only treatment is to remove the lens through a tiny opening in the eye and replace it with an artificial lens - this is what is done during cataract surgery. Cataract removal is the most commonly performed operation in the UK


Where to find a surgeon

Your optician or GP can recommend an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) either through the NHS or privately, or you can ask to see a specific surgeon who has been recommended to you. Your surgeon will be qualified (e.g. Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists) and ideally should hold a substantive NHS consultant post.

Can I still drive if cataracts have been diagnosed?

Generally patients with early cataracts and mild symptoms can continue as normal with their day to day activities. However, if the cataract is severely cloudy, then patients will be aware of difficulties with reading, distance vision and driving vision. Your optician, GP or eye surgeon will advise you as to whether it is safe to drive, as you must satisfy the DVLA criteria.

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How long will I have to wait for surgery?

This can usually be arranged at your convenience in the private sector (depending on when the surgeon's operating sessions are). Waiting times will vary depending on the time of year and patient volumes. Our practice can usually arrange surgery within 2-4 weeks, although this has been done faster where patients have requested it (if they live overseas, for example).

The NHS will give you less choice in terms of time and a longer wait, although these vary depending on which region you're in. You may not meet the surgeon before surgery, nor may you specify which surgeon operates on you.

What are the risks of surgery?

It is important for all patients to be aware of the benefits and potential risks of cataract surgery. The modern phacoemulsification cataract operation is the commonest operation performed in the UK and one of the most successful operations of all. In terms of success, the operation offers a 95% chance of improving your vision, assuming that there is no other disease within the eye.

In terms of problems and complications, in approximately 5% of cases patients have minor complications. These may be, for instance, a technically longer operation or an operation that requires a longer length of recovery. These minor complications still result in a satisfactory visual outcome.

In terms of serious complications, all surgery offers a very small but finite risk of serious complications. The major risks we worry about include infection (1 to 2 per 1000 patients), bleeding (less than 1 in 1000 patients), and retinal detachment (1 in 250 patients). Occasionally, the cataract can fall into the back of the eye during surgery and this requires an emergency second operation to remove (1 in 500 patients). All of these potential complications, although rare, can lead to significant loss of vision and even blindness. However, the risk overall of this happening is probably in the order of 1 to 3 per 1000 but clearly all patients must be aware of this.

We have put all the cataract information on the next few pages of our website into a pdf document for you to download and print out if you prefer.