Cataracts are the world’s leading cause of blindness. Estimates suggest that around half of people aged 75-85 have experienced some vision loss due to cataracts. Yet, while it is a condition that primarily affects older people, the condition can come on as early as your 40s or 50s, and in rare cases children can even be born with a congenital cataract.
Of course, the severity of the problem varies from person to person, but over time the cataracts will cause a partial, and ultimately, a complete loss of vision. However, the good news is that it is almost always treatable. Around 95% of people who receive cataract surgery find that their vision returns to the level experienced before the cataract developed.
Because cataracts primarily affect older people, some patients wonder if they are still suitable for surgery even at an advanced age. So is there an upper age limit on cataract surgery?
The answer, essentially, is no. While each patient is different – and it’s up to you and your surgeon to determine whether it’s the best option for you – your age is not necessarily a limiting factor. In fact, successful cataract operations have been carried out on patients as old as 109, with good results.
So what are the primary considerations for removing a cataract?
When to have your cataract removed
There is no non-surgical treatment for cataracts. The only option to restore sight is to remove and replace the natural lens.
However, it is not the case that a cataract should be removed simply because it is present. For many people, a cataract will have no real impact on day-to-day life, and in such cases, it is not recommended to have a cataract operation unless the impact on vision worsens.
Unlike laser eye surgery, cataract removal is not an elective procedure and should only be carried out if deemed necessary by you and your surgeon. For example, if reading has become difficult, driving is impossible, and quality of life is impaired, these are all reasons for considering having cataract surgery.
One or both eyes?
If you are suffering loss of vision in both eyes, then surgery will usually be carried out on both eyes, several weeks apart. This is because of the risk associated with any surgical procedure. By keeping the operations apart, the risk of problems or infection are significantly reduced. However, risks are minimal with this common procedure.
Other limits for surgery
As mentioned above, age is not necessarily a factor that limits cataract surgery. However, there are certain conditions and circumstances where it might not be best to undergo the treatment. These can include some of the following:
- Underlying conditions – Conditions such as diabetic retinopathy or age related macular degeneration might limit what can be achieved during cataract surgery and affect the results expected.
- Previous eye trauma – If you have suffered any prior eye damage in an accident then this may be a limiting factor.
- Prior surgery – Your eyes are very delicate and previous eye surgery may limit the scope for cataract surgery in the future.
- Stage of cataracts – Some very advanced forms of cataract may not be treatable, but this only applies in very few cases.
- Genetic conditions – Keratoconus and Marfan’s syndrome are two genetic conditions that can make surgery impossible or very difficult.
- Pre-existing conditions – Glaucoma, uveitis and other conditions affecting the eyes might also prevent surgery.
How to decide if cataract surgery is for you
It’s important to realise that it is always you, the patient, who has the final say about whether you have cataract surgery. Our world class surgeons can help you understand what is involved and advise you on the best way forward but it is up to you to decide if it’s for you or not.
Your own age and personal circumstances may become a factor in this decision. Some patients feel they are never too old for treatment, whereas others decide it might not be a good idea at this time in life. Whatever you decide, it’s up to you.
Factors that increase your risk of developing cataracts
Age is perhaps the biggest risk factor when it comes to cataracts. It is, unfortunately, one of the ways the body deals with ageing for many people. However, there are some other factors that can increase your chances of developing cataracts.
These include personal habits, such as smoking or excessive alcohol use. Certain conditions like diabetes can also result in heightened risk. There are also environmental factors, such as prolonged exposure to sunlight. So, as you get older, you need to think about how you live your life.
For more information about cataract surgery or to find out if you could improve your eyesight, book your consultation with Optegra or come down to one of our Eye Hospital.