August is a month full of causes and awareness campaigns, cataracts just one of the many. Yet it is as vital as any cause, to understand what it is and how it is treated.

Mopani Pharmacy consulted local optometrist, Dave Kenyon, on the ins and outs of cataracts, and how they are treated.

What is a cataract?

Cataracts are caused by the protein in the lens clumping and becoming opaque. This usually develops and starts to affect your sight. It is an aging process, but can also be caused by chronic diseases such as diabetes, trauma, drugs like corticosteroids and smoking. UV exposure has also been linked to cataracts.

“A cataract is an opacity and gives the sensation of looking through a mist”. It lies in the lens of the eye, just behind your pupil. This condition is possibly named after the white appearance of rapidly running water.

Imagine you are in a kayak going down a raging river and see this swirling white mass of water ahead? That is what I use to describe to patients what a cataract must feel like – or rather look like from the inside!” said Dave.

This used to be a huge problem back in the day, but we’ve had glorious advances in treatment, “No more sandbags pinning you down for five days; and thick, I mean thick, thick heavy glasses, really made of glass. We can joke now, and once diagnosed, we can tell patients that the diagnosis is good news. I can ask them how they would like being able to see again as if they were 30 years old, and only occasionally needed reading glasses”, Dave explained.

See like you are 30 again? How?


You can have your cataracts removed surgically. The old lens is broken down and removed through a small hole through which a new, artificial lens is inserted.

“The surgical technique has improved so much, that sometimes, a stitch isn’t even necessary”, said Dave.

The procedure is normally done under local anaesthesia eliminating the risks of being “put to sleep”. Full general anaesthesia is rarely required. After the procedure, you are left to recover for a short while, then, free to leave thereafter. The eye operated upon is usually covered to prevent possible infection.

“You will need someone to drive you home, due to the anaesthetic”, said Dave, continuing, “The current trend now, especially overseas, is to have both eyes done simultaneously. I personally strongly advise against this, as there is always a chance of complications or infection. Rather let one eye recover, then have the other eye done later, even if there is a cost disadvantage”.

Artificial lenses are created with a purpose – some are created for better for distanced vision, others are better for closer vision like reading.

“Remember that you can request both eyes for distance, both eyes for near, if you are used to being near-sighted. Or you can request mono-vision; one eye for distance and the other, for near vision. Spectacles can always be used for occasional driving”, Dave explained.

How do you know when it is time to have them removed?

“Cataracts should be removed when they start to affect your functional vision. If removed too early, it could result in worse vision than before; which is why most surgeons want the cataract to mature. Waiting too long could result in the cataract being more difficult to remove and increase the risk of complications. Once you have been diagnosed, you should start considering your course of action and the timeline it should happen in. Often, your biggest problem will be financial, as it is a pricey procedure. You may need to save up for it,” said Dave.

Can the cataracts grow back?

“The answer is no, but the natural capsule that is left behind can become cloudy, giving the effect that oil is smeared on the lens. This is called posterior capsule opacity (PCO). PCO occurs because cells remaining after cataract surgery grow over the back (posterior) of the capsule causing it to thicken and become slightly opaque (cloudy). This is a normal occurrence and does not require surgery. It is treated by a Yag lazer, usually in the specialist’s chair. Results are generally positive and there are no returns”.


Do the benefits outweigh the risk?

“Potential complications include lens dislocation, which is rare. Another complication; eye inflammation or infection. These are all treatable. Something to remember is that the old lens was a very good absorber of UV radiation. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with the replacement lens, so sunglasses are essential for outdoors to protect your retina. More research is being done and even blue light control lenses are being developed.

The vast majority of patients are pleased with the results and some are extremely happy to see faces properly and see leaves so green in colour.

Ask around and I guarantee that you will know someone who has had it done, so it’s almost something you can really look forward to!” Dave concluded.


If you would like to consult Dave on your eye health and have an eye-examination done, you can book an appointment on 013 755 2276. His practice is located at Crossing Centre, near the pet store.

We have a large range of eye-care products, reading spectacles and supplements available at Mopani Pharmacy. If you need help choosing the correct product for you, have a chat with our pharmacists or knowledgeable sales staff.

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