- Cataracts most commonly affect people aged 50 or over.
- Common symptoms include glare during the day and poor vision at night.
- Surgery can correct cataracts in many cases.
- There are several types of cataract surgery; some break down the damaged part of the lens, and some replace the lens.
Around 23 million people in India have cataracts. They are a condition that primarily affects older adults, although certain genetic issues and even lifestyle factors, such as smoking or alcohol consumption can make a person more likely to develop them. Cataracts lead to visual disturbances, including glare during the day and cloudy/poor vision at night.
Fortunately, it’s often possible to treat cataracts and restore normal eyesight.
How Are Cataracts Formed?
Cataracts are formed when the lens located at the back of the eye becomes cloudy and damaged. A healthy lens is flexible and transparent. Age-related damage or damage caused by injury to the eye can cause the lens to form thicker, darker spots. When someone gets cataracts, they tend to develop in both eyes, although one eye may get one more rapidly than the other. Some individuals are born with cataracts as a result of a genetic condition or an illness they contracted in the womb.
Who Gets Cataracts?
Cataracts affect people from all walks of life. They’re more common in older men and women, but many risk factors can cause a younger person to develop cataracts, including:
- Hereditary conditions;
- Infections or trauma in the womb;
- Exposure to excessive sunlight;
- Excessive alcohol consumption;
- High blood pressure;
- Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, and;
- A history of eye surgery.
If a person is born with cataracts, these are known as congenital cataracts. In most cases, congenital cataracts don’t affect a person’s vision. However, they’re usually removed as a precautionary measure as soon as they’re identified.
Are Cataracts Treatable?
Cataracts cannot be treated with medication, but there are surgical treatment options. Cataract surgery has a very high success rate. Several different surgical methods can be used, depending on how serious the cataracts are and whether you have had other forms of eye surgery in the past. The cost of cataract surgery in India can range from RS 15,000 to RS 1,00,000, depending on the hospital and the type of surgery. Treatments are performed on an outpatient basis, so you’re free to go home once the surgery is done, although you’ll need to arrange for someone to pick you up since you won’t be able to drive immediately after the procedure.
Four Common Types of Cataract Surgery
There are four types of cataract surgery that are popular in India. They are:
- Extracapsular cataract surgery
- Intracapsular cataract surgery
- Laser cataract surgery
Of these, phacoemulsification is the most popular for mild cataracts and is a relatively affordable option. Intracapsular surgery is rarely used because it’s invasive and has the greatest risk of complications. Laser surgery is the most costly but has a short healing time and a high success rate, even with severe cataracts.
This is the most common form of cataract surgery because it’s quite quick and can be performed with minimal sedation. It’s popular because it’s one of the best low-cost options with a good success rate. Phacoemulsification involves making a small incision into the eye and inserting a probe that uses sound waves to break down the cataract. Once it has been broken down into small enough fragments, a suction device is used to collect those pieces. Finally, a synthetic lens implant is fed into the lens capsule via a thin pipe.
2. Extracapsular Cataract Surgery
Extracapsular cataract surgery is used for cataracts that are too large to be removed via phacoemulsification. Rather than breaking the cataract down before extracting it, extracapsular surgery takes out the damaged lens in one piece. The replacement lens is implanted into the same capsule. Because the surgery requires a larger incision, the wound must be sealed with sutures, and you’ll need to wear an eye patch for a while to protect the wound while it heals.
3. Intracapsular Cataract Surgery
This type of cataract surgery is far more invasive than even extracapsular surgery. Instead of simply removing the lens, intracapsular surgery involves removing the capsule too. This requires a much bigger incision. Once the damaged lens and capsule have been removed, a lens implant is put in front of the iris. This kind of surgery has a relatively high risk of complications, including glaucoma. Because of this risk, it has fallen out of favour compared to less-invasive treatment options.
4. Laser Cataract Surgery
Laser surgery uses femtosecond laser technology to make precise incisions into the front part of the capsule, giving the surgeon access to the clouded lens so it can be broken down and removed. This means the procedure can often be done with a much smaller incision, reducing the risk of infection, and also reducing the required healing time. Laser surgery is a relatively quick process and tends to have relatively few side effects. However, it’s also quite new and requires costly equipment, so it’s typically offered only at the top hospitals in the country, and it’s more expensive than other surgical options.
Is Cataract Surgery Safe?
Cataract surgery has a high success rate, but there is some risk of side effects, including:
- Increased pressure in the eye;
- Drooping eyelids, and;
- Detached retina.
In some cases, the lens capsule starts to thicken following the surgery. This is known as posterior capsule opacification, and it may take months or even years for this to occur. Fortunately, this is treatable with laser surgery. Around 90 percent of people who have cataract surgery find it improves their eyesight. They may still need to wear glasses or use contact lenses to see as well as possible but ridding themselves of the clouding caused by the cataract makes a big difference to their visual acuity.
How Long Does It Take to Heal After Cataract Surgery?
The healing time for cataract surgery depends on the type of surgery you receive. Most Indian clinics offer a relatively non-invasive option, such as laser, phacoemulsification, or extracapsular surgery. These outpatient treatments have a short healing time. There may be some pain, tearing and visual disturbance for a few days after the surgery, but these side effects should pass within a few days, allowing you to return to your usual daily activities. Full healing can take up to two months. If your specialist thinks you’ll need glasses after the surgery, you’ll have to wait until your eyes have completely healed before being tested to get your new prescription lenses.
How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost?
The cost of cataract surgery depends on the treatment chosen. In general, you can expect to pay between RS 15,000 for some of the low-cost options up to RS 1,00,000 if you’re considering laser cataract surgery in one of the top hospitals. At first glance, the average laser cataract surgery cost may seem expensive, but the faster healing times it offers could be beneficial for someone with work or family responsibilities who doesn’t want to be indisposed for several days. Depending on where you live, you may find it works out more economical to travel for your surgery. Several of the top hospitals for cataract treatment are in Mumbai, and there are some highly rated ones in New Delhi too.
Choosing a Cataract Surgery Specialist
If you’re considering cataract surgery, do your homework before choosing a specialist. Rather than looking at price alone, read reviews and testimonials from other patients. Ask your optometrist for their opinion and look at rankings of the best ophthalmology hospitals in India. Consider how long the hospital has been offering the procedure you’re interested in, their hygiene standards and the quality of aftercare they offer. Also ask about the success rate for the procedure you’re considering and the side effects. A good surgeon will take the time to answer your questions and do everything they can to help you feel at ease.