Do you have problems seeing because of cloudy or blurred vision that even spectacles can’t correct? If you do, you could have a cataract.

The first sign of a cataract is usually blurred vision

Cataract is a condition in which the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy, preventing sufficient light rays from entering the eye, thus impairing vision. It is common in the elderly due to ageing. In Singapore, over 80 per cent of people aged 60 and above have some form of cataract, according to a study carried out by the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), a member of the SingHealth group. Over 10,000 cataract surgeries are performed at SNEC every year.

Causes

In addition to age, prolonged ultra-violet light exposure, long-term use of medications such as steroids, and certain illnesses like diabetes are risk factors for the development of cataract. “In the young, cataract can be present at birth or develop as a result of injury,” says the General Cataract and Comprehensive Ophthalmology Service at SNEC​ .

Symptoms

The first sign of a cataract is usually blurred vision. Other complaints may include:

  • Frequent change of glasses due to increasing short-sightedness in adults
  • Colours appearing dull
  • Poor vision in bright light, glare
  • Haloes around lights
  • Difficulty reading, watching television or driving at night

Diagnosis

Your eye doctor will be able to diagnose your cataract after a clinical examination.

Prevention

There is no scientifically proven way to prevent cataract. However, you can protect your eyes from ultra-violet light by:

  • Wearing sunglasses regularly
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Treating diseases such as diabetes
  • Refraining from smoking
Treatment

Surgery will usually be advised by your surgeon when your blurred vision caused by cataract cannot be corrected with glasses and interferes with your daily activities. The notion of a cataract being ‘ripe’ for surgery is a myth. At SNEC, surgeons are able to perform cataract surgery using different techniques, machines and instruments, making it comfortable, safe and quick to recover from.

Before the operation, your surgeon will counsel you regarding the surgical process, including the expected outcome and possible risks and complications from the surgery. Nurses and counselors will also advise you of the dos and don’ts after the surgery.

Elective cataract surgery is performed as a day/ambulatory surgery, under local or topical anaesthesia, on one eye at a time. A short period of fasting is required before the operation.

Phacoemulsification: the most common cataract treatment procedure

The vast majority of cataract operations at SNEC are carried out using a technique called phacoemulsification. This uses ultrasound energy.

Phacoemulsification involves making a small incision of 1.8 to 3.0mm on the cornea. The vibrating phacoemulsification instrument is introduced into the eye through the small wound. It causes emulsification (softening) of the cataract affected lens which is aspirated out through the instrument at the same time. The capsule of the lens is left behind, which then receives the artificial lens implant. The surgery is completed without any need for stitches.

Post-operatively, you will need to instill eye drops into the operated eye at regular intervals for up to 4 weeks. Light activities and good hygiene are advised, while swimming and hair washing should be avoided during this recovery period.

You will be required to return for check-ups within one week and at about a month after your operation.

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