Derby’s SpaMedica Hospital shares health tips for Cataract Awareness Month

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SpaMedica, the largest NHS cataract surgery provider in the UK, has over 50 hospitals across the UK, including one located in Stores Road, Derby, which help thousands of patients back to better vision each year. June is Cataract Awareness Month and an expert from SpaMedica, shares his tips about tackling the condition.

According to the World Health Organisation, cataracts are the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness around the globe. These cloudy patches are usually caused as result of aging – an estimated 30% of people in the UK over the age of 65 have a cataract that affects their vision in one or both eyes.

Key facts:

  • The natural lens in your eye contains proteins that change as you age. Eventually, these changes cause the lens to become cloudy and lose its transparency - this is a cataract.
Dr Alex Silvester is an ophthalmologist and Chief Medical Officer at SpaMedicaDr Alex Silvester is an ophthalmologist and Chief Medical Officer at SpaMedica
Dr Alex Silvester is an ophthalmologist and Chief Medical Officer at SpaMedica
  • Cataracts develop gradually, getting worse over time – it may be months or even years before a significant change in the quality of vision is noticed – and they can severely affect people’s independence and quality of life as they progress.
  • Those living with cataracts can find everyday tasks and actions, such as driving, reading, watching TV or participating in sport and hobbies, become more difficult to perform, resulting in people giving up the activities they enjoy.
  • Cataracts can affect people’s physical and mental health – people with the condition are more likely to experience falls or accidents due to impaired vision, while loss of vision can lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration, which can contribute to anxiety and depression.
  • More than 450,000 cataract surgeries take place every year in the UK.
  • The median age of people when they have their first cataract surgery is 76.
  • Women are more likely to develop cataracts than men. In 2022/23, women accounted for 57.3% of cataract surgeries included in the National Ophthalmology Database Audit[1].
  • Nationally, 91.8% of patients regain driving-standard vision after cataract surgery.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

People with cataracts may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • Difficulty watching television and reading
  • Being dazzled by sunlight and/or bright lights such as the headlights of an oncoming car
  • Fading of colours
  • Frequent changes to spectacle or contact lens prescriptions

How are cataracts diagnosed?

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Cataracts are usually diagnosed during a routine eye test, which should ideally be done every two years.

Anyone experiencing cataract symptoms should book an eye test at their local optician, where they’ll be able to confirm the presence of cataracts, determine how advanced they are, and discuss the available treatment options.

How are cataracts treated?

Surgery is the only way to treat cataracts. Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most common procedures performed worldwide. In 2022-23, over 480,000 cataract surgeries were performed in England and Wales.

There are three stages to treatment: a pre-operative assessment, the surgery itself, and a post-operative consultation.

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The actual procedure is quick and painless and takes around 20 minutes to complete. Most patients aren’t anesthetised during surgery; instead, eye drops are used to numb the eye beforehand.

People usually see an improvement in their vision within a matter of days, and it takes just 2-6 weeks to make a full recovery from surgery.

If a person has cataracts in both eyes, they’ll have surgery on one eye at a time to allow one eye to compensate while the other eye is healing.

How common are complications during cataract surgery?

Statistics show that complications during cataract surgery are rare. Based on data by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, just 0.79% of patients experienced Posterior Capsule Rupture (PCR), the most common complication of cataract surgery. Only 0.48% of patients experienced deterioration in their vision following surgery.

Choosing where to get treatment

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All NHS patients in England have the right to choose where they have their cataract surgery, but not many people know about this and assume they’ll be referred to their local hospital for treatment.

Patients who wish to find out more about the treatment options available to them should speak to their optician or GP.

About Dr Alex Silvester

Dr Alex Silvester is an ophthalmologist and Chief Medical Officer at SpaMedica. He has an interest in epidemiology and big data and is a member of the Vision Loss Expert Group, which provides global technical leadership in the development of epidemiological estimates for blindness and visual impairment. His work on reducing topical antibiotics following routine cataract surgery was shortlisted for a Public Health England Antibiotic Guardian award.

Alex has published papers in high impact journals including the Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the British Journal of Ophthalmology. He also regularly presents at international conferences on improving cataract surgery outcomes, risk stratification, and clinical governance.

[1] which looked at the outcomes of 481,530 operations performed between April 2022 and March 2023

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