As cataract surgery is the most common form of eye surgery around the world, it’s most likely that you’ve heard of cataracts before. However, the finer details of exactly what is a cataract in the eye may still be a little unclear to you. Keep reading to learn what is a cataract in the eye and how cataract surgery works. 


What is a Cataract?

In the eye, you have a lens, also known as the crystalline lens. The lens is behind the coloured iris, so it is not typically visible to you in the mirror. Importantly, it is responsible for bending light that passes into the eye. Clear sight occurs when incoming light is focused at a sharp point on your sensory retina.

A healthy lens is transparent at birth (excluding cases of congenital cataract). However, as we age, the clarity of the lens gradually diminishes, turning it cloudy. This is considered an age-related cataract. However, opacities in the lens may arise from other causes, including:

  • Injury to the eye. Trauma to the eye can come from blunt injury, sharp injury, electrocution, chemical accidents, or even inflammation from other eye diseases. 
  • Other health conditions. Some systemic diseases are known to increase the risk of cataract, although they don’t directly cause it. Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity are known to increase the likelihood of needing early cataract surgery compared to people without these conditions. 
  • Certain medications. Some medications prescribed to treat other conditions are known to induce cataract formation. These include corticosteroids, lovastatin, phenytoin, and amiodarone.
  • Procedures for other eye conditions. Cataracts can be an unavoidable side effect of eye surgery to treat another condition. For example, cataracts often develop after surgery for retinal detachment.



Opacities or lens clouding from any cause is considered a cataract and may require eye surgery to restore your sight if your symptoms are severe enough. The symptoms you may expect from a cataract can vary depending on its density and location within the lens. These are some commonly reported experiences of people with cataracts.

  • A filmy, hazy, or cloudy sensation to your sight. 
  • You’re unable to see details as clearly as previously, such as friends’ faces in the distance or subtitles on the TV.
  • You find night-time driving increasingly uncomfortable, mainly when other car headlights shine in your face. 
  • The small print feels like it’s getting smaller, and you need better lighting to read comfortably. 
  • Colours appear more faded or washed out than you recall. 


Cataract Surgery

Over 250 000 cataract surgery procedures are performed every year in Australia. Eye surgery is the only way of definitively treating a cataract, but there often is no need to rush into it. In the early stages of a cataract, cataract surgery can be safely deferred in favour of other (temporary) measures that can improve your vision in the meantime. These include improving the task lighting when you need to do fine detailed work like reading or sewing and ensuring your spectacle or contact lens prescription is updated. 

If your cataracts continue advancing, at some point, you will find the symptoms of your cataracts cannot be overcome with brighter lighting or new glasses. At this point, you may want to consider cataract surgery

In some instances, cataract surgery can be combined with another eye surgery procedure. For example, the insertion of a stent to treat glaucoma is often performed at the same time as cataract surgery

cataract surgery treatment melbourneEye surgery for cataracts is typically a straightforward procedure. During the operation, the surgeon will ensure you’re comfortable with a mild sedative and a local or topical anaesthetic for your eye. A small incision is made near the edge of your cornea (the transparent dome at the front surface of your eyeball). The opaque lens is then broken into smaller pieces that can be removed from the corneal incision, and an artificial lens implant is inserted in its place. This implant, known as an intraocular lens, can be calculated to correct your eye’s prescription. This means many people are significantly less dependent on their glasses or contacts after a cataract operation. 

Currently, there are two techniques of cataract surgery – conventional surgery, also known as phacoemulsification, and femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery. The use of the femtosecond laser is a newer method. However, both techniques yield very similar visual outcomes. 

After the procedure, you may find your vision already feels brighter and clearer than when the cataract was still there. However, your sight will probably still not be perfect as it takes up to 4 to 6 weeks for the eye to heal and stabilise. During your post-operative recovery, it’s essential to use your eyedrop medications as instructed and to keep your eye clean and protected. Not doing so increases your risk of a complication while your eye is still in a vulnerable state. 

Further information about what is a cataract in the eye – and whether you have one in your eye – can be obtained by making an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Both eye care professionals are trained and qualified to diagnose a cataract. An optometrist will be able to support your sight with workaround solutions such as dispensing glasses and providing a referral to an ophthalmologist. However, only ophthalmologists are trained to perform cataract surgery. 

Call us on 03 9000 0389 today.



Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.










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