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A cataract is a vision defect that manifests in clouding of the naturally clear lens located in the pupil and iris. Often, patients will complain of blurred vision and if left untreated the crystalline lens will become cloudy and turn opaque. Mostly, both eyes will be affected by cataracts simultaneously, but rarely does the disease develop rapidly in one eye rather than the other.

Cataracts are most common in older people and tend to develop gradually over time. They can normally be cured with a short operation that removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial plastic lens. Unless this surgery is carried out the patient can go blind which, unfortunately, happens all too often in developing countries that don’t have the resources to carry out the number of operations necessary.

Cataract surgery is performed by an approved ophthalmologist on an outpatient basis, meaning you aren’t required to stay in hospital after the surgery. It’s a common surgery and is generally a safe procedure; if done correctly.

If you’re having problems seeing objects properly due to cataracts your doctor may recommend cataract surgery. Also, if a cataract is interfering with the treatment of another vision defect such as myopia or hyperopia, cataract surgery may be recommended before the underlying defect is corrected. For instance, cataracts make it impossible for doctors to examine the inner part of the eye for conditions such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, thus it becomes necessary to recommend cataract surgery.

Cataract Eye Surgery Prices

If you don’t qualify for free cataracts surgery on the NHS, the cost of cataract eye surgery in the UK ranges between around to £2,000 – £4,000 per eye depending on the type of lens you have, the clinic and the type of surgery offered. Costs also vary from region to region across the UK, with London-based clinics charging relatively more compared to clinics in the north of the UK.

To give you an idea of what you will need to pay for private cataract surgery involved, here’s a table of advertised prices for some of the more well know clinics:

Cataract Surgery Prices (correct as of April 2019)

Clinic Consultation Cataract / RLE Monofocal Lens (per eye) Cataract / RLE Multifocal or Trifocal Lens (per eye)
Optimax Free £2,995 £2,995
Ultralase Free £2,995 £2,995
Optegra £225 £2,495 £2,495
Optical Express Free From £1,995 From £3,195
Center For Sight * £295 £3,195 – £3,995 £4,100 – £4,500
Advanced Vision Care * £200 £3,150 – £3,450 £3,750 – £4,050

* Higher price charged for Toric lenses.

While appreciating that the prices quoted above are an average, some eye clinics across the UK may offer special deals for cataract eye surgery. However, you should be aware that whilst clinics will often advertise offers on cataract surgery, it’s important to read the small print carefully before committing to some of those offers. Some of the offers may not include all the necessary care after the surgery. To be safe, compare a selection of cataract eye surgery clinics and make the decision based on the surgeon’s professional experience and reputation.

When investigating the prices of cataract surgery, always check the small print and make sure you are not looking at the laser eye surgery prices which are often cheaper. Some clinics may present a great headline price but there may be added extras that haven’t been accounted for, e.g. your aftercare and subsequent appointments after the procedure.

Is Finance Available for Cataract Surgery?

If you’ve decided private treatment is the way forward but don’t feel you can afford to pay for the procedure in one lump sum, many clinics now offer finance options. This allows you to split the cost over 10-48 months depending on the clinic. The financing options below are based on the cheaper Monofocal Lens RLE Cataract Surgery option (Multifocal, Trifocal and Toric options will be more expensive):

Finance Available For Cataract / RLE Multifocal or Trifocal Lens (per eye)

Clinic Deposit Shortest Repayment Period (0% APR) Longest Repayment Period (0% APR)
Optimax £500 12 months: On Request* 48 months: £64.40 per month (11.5% APR)
Ultralase £500 12 months: On Request* 48 months: £64.40 per month (11.5% APR)*
Optegra £0 12 months: £207.91 per month 36 months: £62.66 per month (9.9% APR)*
Optical Express £500 10 months: £149.50 per month 72 months: £28.40 per month (11.5% APR)*
Advanced Vision Care £1250 18 months: £94.44 per month** Contact Clinic
Center For Sight Varies 12 months: On Request* 24 months: £94.00 per month

* 12 Month interest free financing is available subject to status  ** Lower interest free monthly finance rates are available if you wish to pay a larger deposit.

Common Types of Cataracts

Age Related: The most common type of eye cataracts are age-related which affect almost one-third of the UK’s adult population. It manifests in cloudy eyes, blurred vision, visual imbalances, inability to see in low light and dulling of colours. This is the easiest type to treat out of the four listed.

Congenital: Occurs in very few people, this type of cataract exists from birth or develops in childhood. Just like other cataracts, both eyes are affected and the symptoms vary depending on the severity and degree of onset. The cause is not clearly documented but chromosomal defects or infections in the womb are highly associated with the condition.

Secondary: Occur in the presence of conditions such as diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse or exposure to toxic substances such as radioactive rays and steroids.

Traumatic: As the name implies, these occur as the result of an eye injury, and in some rare cases can be caused by electric shock.

Cataracts Surgery Techniques

Cataracts can be treated by removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial plastic lens (an intraocular implant). Cataract surgery can be carried out in three ways, but each technique is dependent on the severity of the trauma that necessitated the surgery. The techniques are:

Phacoemulsification: Involves breaking the cataract into small pieces using ultrasound before the fragments are sucked out through a thin tube. The same incision is used to insert a replacement lens and functions like the extracted natural lens.

Extracapsular Cataract Surgery: This technique is adopted when the cataracts are at an advanced level and cannot be broken down using phacoemulsification. It is performed under local anesthesia and the doctor may recommend oral sedatives to relax the patient. The surgeon makes a small incision in the eye to remove the defective lens.

Intracapsular Cataract Surgery: This type of surgery involves creating a relatively large incision compared to the other techniques. This technique is mostly used for people with extreme trauma. The larger incision makes it possible for the surgeon to remove the lens fully and in its place put an artificial intraocular lens.

Although cataract surgery is considered a low-risk procedure, some complications have been reported including Posterior Capsular Opacification (PCO) resulting from additional cell growth in the lens and Cystoid Macular Oedema resulting from fluid build-ups between the layers of the retina. Other common complications include retinal detachment, inflammation, corneal damage and eye infections.

Do I Need Cataract Surgery?

At first, you might not notice that there’s anything wrong with your eyesight, which is why you may not be aware you have a cataract until it’s identified by an optician in your annual eye examination. However, as the cataract develops, your vision get worse, and it’s when your vision becomes severely affected that an operation is recommended. But you don’t always have to wait until that point to have cataract surgery, especially if you’re seeking private treatment for it or are heavily reliant on your eyes for your job (e.g. driving).

Can I Get Cataract Surgery Free on the NHS?

Once your cataracts start to severely hamper your day-to-day activities, that’s when you’ll be offered the procedure on the NHS. For example, if you’re struggling to drive, read or can no longer take care of someone you look after for, your doctor/ophthalmologist will recommend you for treatment.

  • Women 57.2%
  • Men 42.8%

NHS Cataract Operations by Gender

Previously, patients had to wait until they could barely see before they were entitled to cataract surgery, but there are no guidelines in place now, which means the removal of your cataracts can take place as soon as your vision is affected. It’s also worth noting that, some clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) within the NHS will have different guidelines in place as to who’s eligible for cataract surgery, so it’s worth checking this out before you decide to go private or pursue surgery on the NHS.

Additionally, if you’re suffering from another eye condition (e.g. diabetic retinopathy) you may be advised to undergo cataract surgery. This is because these are often less treatable when you have cataracts too.

Preparing for Cataract Surgery

Prior to your surgery, the surgeon will measure your eyes and vision a number of times to ensure the artificial lens they’re placing within them is right for you. They will also discuss your medical history, existing medical conditions and other vision problems to make sure there aren’t too many risks involved in the procedure.

The operation itself is done under local anaesthetic and normally takes around 45 minutes (if you have cataracts in both eyes these will be done one at a time, 6 to 12 weeks apart). This means you’ll be able to go home after your operation, but you will need to arrange transport as you won’t be able to drive straight after.

How Quickly Will I Recover from Cataract Surgery?

Within a few hours of the procedure you should be discharged from hospital, and you will need to get plenty of rest for the next two or three days. During this time, and for a month after your surgery, it’s important you use the antibiotic drops that have been prescribed by your surgeon (to keep your eyes moist and prevent any infections/inflammation). You may also need to wear a dressing for 24 hours and may be advised to wear a patch at night to prevent you from rubbing your eye(s) in your sleep.

Some patients will experience mild discomfort post-surgery but this shouldn’t last long and over-the-counter painkillers should help ease this. After a few days, you’ll also be able to resume your normal daily activities, while being careful not to get anything in your eye (e.g. water or soap) for several weeks. Apart from that, you should notice a great improvement in your vision almost straight after your surgery.

What Risks Are Involved in Cataract Surgery?

There are some risks involved in cataract surgery, just like there is with any other type of operation. However, the chance of you suffering from one of these risks is very small.

  • Posterior capsule opacification (PCO) is the most common complication that arises after cataract surgery, occurring when the skin starts to grow over the implanted lens, causing your vision to go cloudy or blurred. However, this can be easily rectified with a small procedure, whereby a YAG laser is used to create an incision in this overgrown membrane so your vision becomes clear once again.
  • Other typical complications include an eye infection or inflammation to the eye, which can often be treated with antibiotic drops before it gets worse; a dislocated artificial lens, requiring another operation to put it back in place; some or all of the cataract dropping into the back of the eye; retinal detachment; a tear in the lens capsule and bleeding inside the eye. In other cases, the surgeon may be unable to remove the entire cataract or place an artificial lens within the eye.
  • The majority of these cases can be treated with further surgery or medication and shouldn’t have any long-lasting effects on your overall vision. Only around 1 in 1,000 patients suffer vision loss after the initial procedure.

Can Cataracts be Prevented?

This is still a much-debated topic but there are some studies which suggest certain nutritional supplements and nutrients could prevent the onset of cataracts. These include vitamin E, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids and the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein.

Another study also found that smoking can increase a person’s risk of developing age-related cataracts.

Furthermore, attending regular eye examinations can help. Although it won’t prevent cataracts from developing it does help your optician spot them at an early stage so you can seek treatment before they have a severe impact on your vision.

Frequently Asked Questions

The eye is numbed using anaesthetic eye drops so the only thing you may feel throughout the procedure is a slight pressure as the surgeon works on your eye.

After cataract surgery, the majority of people will need to wear glasses for short- or long-distance use, even if they didn’t rely on them prior to the operation. 70% of people need glasses when they are fitted with a multifocal lens and 95% with a monofocal lens. This is due to an artificial lens implant being unable to focus on various distances, unlike your natural lens. However, this natural ability is lost with age anyway so most cataract patients will need glasses to read prior to undergoing the procedure.

As they’re constructed from plastic or silicone, artificial lenses are designed to last a lifetime, so you shouldn’t require a repeat operation afterwards unless you suffer from PCO.

If your doctor doesn’t feel as though your vision has been significantly altered by the cataract and you’re still able to carry on as normal, they might not recommend you for surgery until your cataract gets worse. There may also be different cataract surgery requirements within your area, so you may want to check with the NHS as to what these are.

A very small number of people who undergo cataract surgery will develop PCO (detailed above), whereby a membrane grows over the lens capsule, clouding your vision. This is often described as a secondary cataract or ‘after-cataract’ and can arise a few months or even years after the initial procedure.

Further Information

Understanding Cataracts RNIB

Understanding Cataracts Guide (PDF)


Comprehensive guide to cataracts products by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in conjunction with The Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

National Ophthalmology Database Audit 2017 (PDF)


This report is a snapshot of cataract surgery quality from 56 NHS funded centres in England and Wales produced by the RCOphth.