Top ten cataract surgery myths

I often get asked a multitude of questions about cataracts, how they develop, the surgical steps for removing them and the recovery required after surgery but here are my top ten common myths surrounding cataracts that people often ask me in clinic.

MYTH 1: Eye drops can get rid of cataracts

FACT: There are eye drops out on the market that are being sold as cure for cataract surgery. However there is no good evidence from clinical studies that any eye drop can cure cataracts to date. The only proven treatment for cataracts is surgical removal.

MYTH 2: Close up work or straining your eyes will make your cataract worse

FACT: Activities such as reading or close up work like sewing do not have a direct effect on your cataract. If you have a cataract, you may struggle to perform these sorts of tasks and that is often a common symptom many of my patients complain of. Your cataract will naturally get worse with time whatever the cause and can get worse quickly if the original cause is taking steroid tablets for example.

MYTH 3: Cataracts are reversible

FACT: Cataracts are a physical change within your natural lens which makes this normally clear lens cloudy. These changes are not reversible with time, drops or tablets. The only way to treat cataracts is to remove the cloudy lens with surgery and replace it with a clear silicone based artificial lens.

MYTH 4: Cataracts grow back

FACT: Once you have successful cataract surgery and your cloudy natural lens is replaced with an artificial clear lens, the cataract cannot grow back as it has been removed. Over time some people can develop a cloudy film across the back of the new artificial clear lens. This can occur because some of the cells of the cloudy cataract removed at the time of surgery can remain and form a film. The good news is this cloudy film of cells can be easily cleared with a simple painless 5 minute laser procedure removing the film and restoring clear vision once again.

MYTH 5: Recovery after cataracts can take months

FACT: With the latest technology and advanced surgical techniques, cataract surgery recovery has been dramatically reduced. It is true that years ago cataract patients were admitted for a week before surgery, their surgical time could be more than an hour and the recovery time was spent in hospital for many days. The main reasons why we don’t have to do this anymore, is that our machines to take the cataracts out are less bulky, the wounds we create are much smaller without the need for stitches and our dramatic reduction in infection rates due to preventative antibiotics that are placed in the eye at the end of cataract surgery.

MYTH 6: Cataracts are films that grow over the eye

FACT: This is an interesting myth as it may relate to people’s confusion with a pterygium. This is a triangular shaped piece of conjunctival tissue that can sometimes be seen growing over the corner of a person’s cornea. It rarely covers the whole eye. A cataract relates to the mistiness of your lens within your eye. This is behind your iris and can be better seen when your pupil is dilated with drops.

MYTH 7: Cataracts can be removed with lasers

FACT: This myth was not the case recently but technically lasers can be used to assist cataract removal. So while lasers cant be used solely to perform cataract surgery, they can be used to create small openings in the front of the eye to gain access, create a circular opening in the bag that holds the cataract and cut up the cataract in to pieces. All the other surgical steps in cataract surgery do not use laser yet.

MYTH 8: Cataracts must be ripe before operating on them

FACT: This myth may have arisen from the fact the cataract surgery was more risky in the years gone by. The risk may not have been taken because of the potential complications of cataract surgery. Thankfully cataract surgery is far safer nowadays and we can safely operate on patients who have symptoms – however mild or severe. Waiting for cataracts to ripen or mature may actually make cataract surgery more technically challenging so it’s not normal practice any more.

MYTH 9: Only old people develop cataracts

FACT: While it is true that if you live long enough, you will eventually get cataracts, not all people with cataracts are greater than 60 years of age. Cataracts are seen in all age groups – even newborns born with congenital cataracts. Younger people may have cataracts that have been caused by an eye injury.

MYTH 10: There is no need for glasses after cataract surgery

FACT: This does depend on the type of artificial lens you decide on to replace your cataract. The most common type of artificial lens inserted is a monofocal intra-ocular. Monofocal means fixed for one particular distance. In the large majority of patients, this is fixed for distance and this means that glasses for near tasks such as reading are still required. There are artificial lenses available that can fix for multiple distances and these are known as multifocal lenses (similar to the concept of varifocal glasses). These can mean some patients do not need glasses at all. These type of artificial lenses are not suitable for everyone and they need to be implanted in both eyes to be effective.