Ask an ophthalmic surgeon: What is a cataract?

Written by: Mr Francesco Stringa
Edited by: Carlota Pano

A cataract is a common eye condition, particularly amongst older adults, that can cause severe sight loss if not managed appropriately.


Here to provide an expert insight into cataracts, including symptoms and surgical treatment, is Mr Francesco Stringa, award-winning consultant ophthalmic surgeon.



What is a cataract?


A cataract is an area of cloudiness in the natural lens of the eye that causes a decrease in the quality of vision.


Symptoms of cataracts may include:

  • seeing faded colours
  • having blurry eyesight or double vision
  • seeing halos around lights
  • having problems seeing in very bright lights
  • having problems seeing at night


Cataracts usually develop slowly, and can appear in one or both eyes.


What is cataract surgery?


Cataract surgery is a surgical procedure to treat cataracts, and it is performed by an ophthalmic surgeon.


During surgery, the cloudy lens of the eye is removed and, generally, replaced with a clear artificial lens. The operation is an outpatient (day-case) procedure, meaning that patients can go home on the same day that cataract surgery is performed.


How is cataract surgery performed?


Cataract surgery is done in a clean and sterile environment - the eye theatre - where the patient will be asked to lay down on the operating bed facing up, towards the light of the operating microscope.


The procedure takes approximately 15 minutes, unless the cataract is particularly hard or extra steps are needed (for example, if the pupil is not well dilated).


The eye will be numbed by local anaesthetic, so no pain should be felt during the operation. However, a mild discomfort might be perceived due to the microscope’s light and the water that is needed to keep the eye well lubricated.


The surgeon, after disinfecting the skin around the eye and applying the anaesthesia, will make a very small cut between the white and the coloured part of the eye. The capsule of the lens (called ‘the bag’) will then be opened. Following this, the actual lens will then be removed with an instrument that breaks the lens into very small pieces. Once the old lens is removed, the new artificial lens will then be placed, usually inside of ‘the natural bag’. Finally, the surgeon will provide an antibiotic and seal the cut.


What is the recovery time for cataract surgery?


Following cataract surgery, it is common to experience:

  • grittiness
  • watery eyes
  • blurry eyesight
  • sensitivity to light
  • red or bloodshot eyes


These side effects usually improve after a few days, but it can take up to four to six weeks to fully recover.


If patients need to wear new glasses after surgery, it is recommended to order them after the eye has completely healed (approximately six weeks after the cataract surgery).


Are there any risks or complications associated with cataract surgery?


Generally, cataract surgery is a very safe procedure. Complications are rare, and can be treated successfully if they do occur.


Complications after cataract surgery may include:

  • inflammation
  • infections
  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • dislocation of the artificial lens
  • retinal detachment
  • drooping eyelid
  • high pressure inside of the eye
  • blurriness of ‘the bag’ of the lens
  • decreased vision


The risk of experiencing complications following surgery is higher if the patient has a co-existing condition in the eye or a serious medical condition.


Occasionally, cataract surgery fails to improve vision due to underlying damage in the eye from other conditions (for example, glaucoma or macular degeneration). It is thus important to undergo a thorough eye examination to discover these eye conditions before planning cataract surgery.



If you require surgery for cataracts and wish to consult your options with an expert, do not hesitate to visit Mr Stringa’s Top Doctors profile today.

By Mr Francesco Stringa

Mr Francesco Stringa is an award-winning consultant ophthalmic surgeon based in Southampton, who specialises in treatment for glaucoma and cataract. His expertise is focused in glaucoma surgery,  glaucoma laser surgery (selective laser trabeculoplasty and laser iridotomy) and minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), as well as, standard and advanced cataract surgery and general ophthalmology. He privately practises at Spire Southampton Hospital, while his NHS base is University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, where he is the Clinical Lead for Eye theatres.

Mr Stringa is a leading name in the UK and Europe for different types of glaucoma treatment. He has performed over 2,000 surgeries to date, and he works continuously to audit and improve his treatment outcomes. His specialisms include conventional glaucoma surgery, such as trabeculectomy and glaucoma drainage devices, along with new techniques in minimally invasive glaucoma surgery. He performs laser surgery for the treatment of both open angle and closed angle glaucoma.

Mr Stringa is involved in the management of the glaucoma service at the Eye Unit in Southampton, providing high quality care for a population of nearly 2 million people, in one of the busiest tertiary referral centres in the UK. He also has spearheaded various quality improvement projects at Southampton General Hospital, including the introduction of new lasers for the treatment of refractory glaucoma and new minimally invasive glaucoma devices

Mr Stringa is also a cataract surgery expert with outcomes that are higher than the national average, undertaking over 4,000 procedures in both NHS and private practice. He offers a wide range of intra-ocular options for different vision requirements and expectations. He prides himself in his good communication skills, where he is able to empathise with patients as well as providing the highest quality of care while keeping in mind their individual needs.

He is highly qualified, with an MBBS from the University of Pavia in Italy and a Scholarship at the prestigious Almo Collegio Borromeo, which is classified as a ´highly qualified Cultural Institute` by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and is the oldest such institution remaining in operation in Italy. He is a member of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (MRCOphth) and he achieved the Fellowship from the European Board of Ophthalmology in the Subspecialty of Glaucoma (FEBOS-GL). Mr Stringa completed his initial training in ophthalmology at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, subsequently he underwent two fellowships in Nottingham University Hospital and St Thomas’ Hospital respectively to further specialise in glaucoma

Mr Stringa is an expert in the evaluation of glaucoma surgery outcomes and is actively involved in the improvement of the glaucoma service at his NHS trust. As a result of this, he is regularly invited to talk on such topics at national and international conferences. Furthermore, he is a mentor and teacher of fellows and trainees, and his clinical research frequently features in highly impacted peer-reviewed journals.

Mr Stringa is member of the UK and EIRE Glaucoma Association (UKEGS), the General Medical Council (GMC) and the European Glaucoma Society (EGS), where is part of the Next Generation Partnership. He has won various awards for his clinical practise and research. He won the Runner Up Research Team prize at the Greater Manchester Clinical Research Awards, the Best Abstract Presentation Award from the UKEGS and the Healthcare Leadership Foundations prize at the NHS Leadership Academy Awards. 

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