How to handle cataracts

In episode 37 of YourLifeChoices’ Mind Your Own Retirement podcast, hosts John Deeks and Janelle Ward were joined by leading orthoptist Pam Norton to discuss everything you need to know about cataracts.

Read the transcript below.

John Deeks: What is a cataract?
Pam Norton: If you think of the eye like a camera, a cataract affects the lens inside the camera. You have a natural lens inside your eye, a cataract is when that lens becomes cloudy or opaque. The light can’t get through the lens and onto the film or the retina, the back of the eye.

Janelle Ward: So why does it become cloudy Pam? Is it all age-related or not necessarily?
PN: Not at all. It can be due to general health, medicines or trauma. Some people are born with cataracts, so it’s not really related to your age.

Janelle: Are things becoming cloudy the first warning sign?
PN: It can be, but, having said that, when the lens becomes cloudy, it is not always a uniform cloud. Some people get a central cataract, so as soon as the centre of the lens gets cloudy their vision is markedly decreased. Some people get slow-developing cataracts, and it’s like the mirror in the bathroom when you first turn the shower on, it just slowly fogs up. You can’t see yourself in the mirror. The light is not coming into your eye, so you are not getting a clear picture.

Janelle: So, there is no age at which you should start considering cataract surgery?
PN: Not really.

John: When I had one of my cataracts removed, my doctor told me that my other eye wasn’t quite bad enough to have it done yet.
PN: That is probably true. You are probably finding your one eye functioning pretty well anyway.

John: I am. Janelle looks fabulous. Tell me, is the first stop to finding out about your eye health going to your local eye people?
PN: Yes. Your local optometrist can refer you on to an ophthalmologist, if required. You’ve got to consider as you get older that if you have got some signs if cataracts, which most people will have after the age of 50, you have to consider your mobility. You have to consider the driver’s licence. You have to trust your ophthalmologist. Diabetics are people who should consider having that cataract surgery done early on because diabetics get trouble on their retina, so you always have to be able to monitor the retina. If the lens gets cloudy, the ophthalmologist can’t see. You can’t see out, but we can’t see behind the cataracts.

John: Is the surgery covered by medical insurance?
PN: It is. People should check with their health funds and see if they are covered for cataract surgery, they should also check with their health funds as a lot of ophthalmologists have kind of a no-gap game. Which means, if you have private health insurance, you’re not going to have extra out-of-pocket expenses.

So, it’s really worth checking that. And it’s also worth checking with the surgeons before you go, ask them what their fee structure is. That way you don’t get a terrible shock when you get your bill at the end of the day, because some people charge differently to others.

Janelle: Pam, just a final question on safety. Is it almost a no-fail procedure these days or not that simple?
PN: Well, all surgeries have some risks, but cataract surgery is considered one of the safest. If a patient also has glaucoma and the pressure is a problem, once the pressures reduces, you can do the cataract surgery. And often after cataract surgery, the pressure is lower, and the patient can go off their glaucoma treatment, so that’s an added advantage for people who have glaucoma.

Have you undergone cataract surgery? How much better was your vision afterwards?

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Written by Ben Hocking

Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.

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