Everything you need to know about cataracts

If you’ve noticed the world is becoming a bit foggy, you may be developing cataracts. What now?

Everything you need to know about 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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    To make a comment, please register or login
    1st Apr 2020
    I had cataract surgery on my left eye last August; I now wish I hadn't!
    I'd not noticed particular cloudiness, but was told that I 'd be better with the surgery and did find afterwards that certain colours were a bit more distinct. However, although I was used to the odd 'floater' and was quite able to ignore them, the op resulted in a more noticeable one - a bit like a piece of black woollen thread - and another bit that is more like a mobile blur which continually gets in the way at short range when I'm trying to read or work on the computer. I'm told that I just have to put up with it.
    Apparently it is also customary for the surgeon to use a lens which gives you clearer long-range vision. For 75 years I was accustomed to being short-sighted (wore glasses from the age of three); now I'm suddenly long-sighted, no longer able to see things close-up. I'm finding this difficult and irritating, having to now peer with my right eye alone.
    Suffice it to say that I won't be asking for surgery on my right eye in a hurry - I'm quite happy to put up with the slightly yellowish blue sky!
    1st Apr 2020
    I'm desperate to have the surgery but have been waiting on the public list for over a year now, and with the CV19 stuff don't like my chances. I am no longer allowed to drive at night, and have double vision in my left eye at times. Driving in daytime is fine. As I live alone I don't want to lose my licence. My GP has recently sent an urgent memo to the eye hospital to find out when it might happen, but have had no response. Even if I were to pay for it I don't like my chances of getting in now. Do I have to go blind? it's very scary. Oddly I have no problem with reading at all. I have not been able to have a new prescription while I'm waiting so my spectacles are 3 years old. I don't know what else I can do really
    1st Apr 2020
    I don’t think I’d like to go into a hospital for any reason just now, patti, tired medical staff, worrying about what germs are on surfaces. All the same it’s a nuisance.
    6th Apr 2020
    Patti, close friend (after discontinued Private Health Insurance) had her cataracts successfully operated on when her Opthalmologist found an opening within a few mths @ Wodonga/Albury Public Hospital - & he was kind enough to drive there to perform it.
    1st Apr 2020
    I had left eye done Jan 2020 and right done Feb 2020. Both ops painless and quick. Have 20/20 in right and nearly as good in left. Colours and sight are unbelievable best thing ever. Very happy with results.
    1st Apr 2020
    So sorry, Patti, that you're having to wait so long. I had registered (public list) the previous year, on advice from specialist. I hate to seem ungrateful but I believe I should have waited longer. I do hope you get attention very soon!
    Pass the Ductape
    1st Apr 2020
    Both of mine have been operated on at a cost of approximately $3000 each, at the time. First one was painless, but the second one, although bearable, was quite uncomfortable as far as pain went. If I'd experienced the pain of the second one initially, I'm not sure I'd have gone back to have another go at it - but on a scale of one to ten - the pain experienced was about a four or five - and in hindsight I still think it would be worth it. The surgeon offered this cheery advice after I spoke to him about the pain. " That's no good - we're supposed to get better as we do these things - not worse!" The first eye done began to go milky again after a year or so and it required a short burst of laser treatment to fix the problem - totally painless - except for the hip pocket! Can't focus really close though, so need magnifying glasses for anything closer than reading distance.
    1st Apr 2020
    I had my first eye operated on two weeks ago, and my second last Wednesday. With the first op I awoke and "saw"something being done, and heard the surgeon talking for about 10 seconds, and promptly fell back into the twilight zone. My eye was badly bruised underneath and still hasn't completely gone. The second one, I awoke when they were cutting it and yelled, and the surgeon said, " It's alright." I fell straight back to sleep. That eye had no bruising but was very painful for the first 36 hours. So the after-effects can be completely different. I'm still struggling with the 2 drops 4 times a day and 3 at night for a month routine, but I am typing this with no glasses for the first time in 30 years, so I am hoping for great results. I was covered by BUPA and had no gaps to pay.
    1st Apr 2020
    Good to hear all your comments. Due to virtual sight lost I had no choice but to have both cataracts removed. Have a lot of pain in right eye on reading. Manage to get rid of sticky mucus from eyes with steam. Now trying eye exercises for pain in eye when reading. I can now see which is great. Had my cataracts removed in Dec so guess time is the essence to full recovery. Sounds like you need a second opion from another eye specialist DreamOn. Good luck.
    Pass the Ductape
    1st Apr 2020
    For those with pain afterwards - that sounds a bit brutal. I'm not a doctor, but I don't know that on-going pain is ok - I'd get my eyes checked out again by another surgeon if that's possible - particularly if the pain isn't going away.... Just doesn't sound right!
    1st Apr 2020
    Yes you are right ducttape, if pain does not ease I will be getting a second opion. All the drops 1st specialist gave me do not work but resting eye does.
    2nd Apr 2020
    Had right eye done last December, left eye in January, both covered by private health insurance with a one-off hospital admission fee of $250. Some slight discomfort afterwards but vision is excellent, 6/6 both eyes - the metric equivalent of 20/20. Can type and read this without glasses. Totally recommended but I guess it depends on the skill of the surgeon and their lens implant calculations.

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