Author: Dr Val Phua MBBS, MMed (Ophth), FRCOphth, FAMS
Photo by: Svyatoslav Romanov
Cataracts are a leading cause of treatable blindness in the world and are commonly correlated with age. With life expectancy increasing in tandem with modern day medicine, so does the burden of blindness from cataract. Advances in cataract surgery have made the treatment of cataracts not only safe but also quick with minimal down time and did you know that there are tangible benefits for undergoing cataract surgery beyond restoration of vision?
What happens if cataracts are left untreated over time may not be obvious to many. Going back to fundamentals, cataracts form due to abnormal lens proteins being built up in the natural lens. This not only results in blurred, cloudy, discoloured vision it can also induce short-sightedness over time. The stiffening of the lens with cataract can also cause the “strings” of the lens bag to be damaged, resulting in the lens being out of alignment and can even fall to the back of the eye. In some cases, instead of falling to the back of the eye, the lens can get dislocated to the front of the eye and damage the cornea and if this damage to the cornea is severe, a cornea transplant may be needed. With untreated cataracts, it can also cause glaucoma in several ways. The eye pressure can suddenly go up because the cataract becomes so bulky that it blocks the normal flow of “water” in the eye and the lens proteins can also leak out of the bag and choke up the drainage system in the eye. This high pressure in the eye further compromises vision by damaging the main nerve in the eye, the optic nerve. In addition to the above complications, performing cataract surgery on dense mature cataract is also more difficult with increased chances of complications happening during the surgery. This could mean a more prolonged recovery after surgery and poorer visual outcomes.
Cataract surgery may also significantly enhance your quality of life. Poor vision can be quite debilitating, impacting on common tasks such as driving, using the phone or computer and really any other hobbies you may have. This decreases the confidence a person has, decreases independence and may even spiral into social withdrawal and depression. Helen Keller said that “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”. While this is profoundly true, for many, a lack of sight commonly leads to a lack of vision. With modern day cataract surgery, this visual impairment from cataract is readily reversed and sight restored.
If you have witnessed any elderly friends or family fall, you know that the impact can be disastrous with the prolonged hospital stay and significant decompensation occurring with the body and some may not even survive a major injury after a fall. A major contributing factor to the falls happening is visual loss. Especially in the elderly group, cataract is a major cause for this visual loss. Some authors have estimated that undergoing that simple cataract surgery can not only restore sight but also reduce the risk of falls and fractures up to 20%.
In the context of marriage, “happy wife, happy life” is a commonly issued advice. Perhaps in this case, “happy eye, happy life” would be an apt summary.