A cataract is progressive clouding of the lens inside the human eye. First it goes yellow, then brown, and finally totally opaque (cloudy).

Cataracts usually develop as part of the aging process. But they may also develop as a result of injury, certain diseases, medications or even our genes.

Children and infants can be affected as well as older adults. Occasionally, an infant is born with a cataract. It is usually impossible to determine the source of infant cataracts.

Cataracts that develop during childhood are often the result of an eye injury, a disease involving other parts of the body, abnormal lens growth, or the late appearance of an inherited cataract.

Once a cataract has formed, there are no medications, eye drops, exercises or glasses that will cause it to disappear. The clouding interferes with sight, changing the focusing power of the eye.

Gradually, clarity drops so that sight becomes increasingly difficult, despite the best possible glasses. Tasks like reading, driving, writing, working on a computer, undertaking hobbies and exercising become harder, and eventually, impossible to perform because of impaired vision.

Surgical procedures for cataract removal vary considerably. Cataract surgery is the most common major eye surgery required by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Cataract surgery is elective. That means it is performed only when the person wants and needs it. People usually choose to have it when they can no longer see well enough to do their job, enjoy their hobbies, or do other things like driving. Some people are more demanding of their sight, and have surgery earlier than others who are not troubled by deteriorating vision.

The operation is usually fast, comfortable and quite successful. Surgery is usually performed as outpatient surgery. The cloudy lens is removed with an instrument that loosens it and gently vacuums it out of the eye.

Once the lens has been removed, a lens implant is necessary to restore the focus of the eye. The lens implant is folded and inserted through the same tiny opening in which the cloudy lens was taken from. The lens is placed behind the coloured iris, replacing the damaged lens. This new lens is permanent and restores the focus of the eye.

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