Cataracts: Should I Have Surgery?
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.
Cataracts: Should I Have Surgery?
Get the facts
- Have cataract surgery.
- Wait until poor eyesight caused by the cataract gets bad enough to bother you.
Key points to remember
- Not all cataracts need to be removed. It depends on how much they bother you. Many people get along very well without surgery by wearing contact lenses or glasses.
- Poor eyesight caused by cataracts happens slowly over time, so you probably don't need to rush into having surgery.
- Surgery removes the lens from your eye. The lens has to be replaced. If it can't be replaced, you'll wear glasses or contact lenses instead.
- You may still need to wear glasses or contacts after surgery to see well.
Cataract surgery removes the lens that has the cataract, which is a painless, cloudy area in the lens of the eye. In order for you to see, the lens must be replaced. This happens in one of two ways:
- During the surgery, the doctor places an artificial lens in your eye. This is how most cataract surgery is done. Some people also need to wear glasses or contact lenses after surgery.
- In a few cases, the doctor can't replace the lens. If that happens, you'll wear glasses or contact lenses instead.
Because the surgery replaces the lens in your eye, it's important to talk to your doctor about your choices.
Cataract surgery usually works very well.
If you don't have another eye problem, such as glaucoma or problems with your retina, your chances of seeing better after cataract surgery are very good.1 But you may still need reading glasses or glasses for near vision.
If you are nearsighted or farsighted, or if you have astigmatism, you may not need your glasses or contacts as much after surgery. This is because replacing the lens can improve these problems. But the surgery is not done for this reason alone.
Cataract surgery doesn't usually cause problems. Your vision may be cloudy for up to 3 months after surgery. But this is normal and will go away as your eye heals.
Cloudy vision sometimes comes back
The most common problem after surgery is a gradual return of cloudy vision several months or years after surgery. The problem happens when a part of the remaining lens cover becomes cloudy. The clouding can be fixed with laser surgery.
Serious problems aren't common
Out of 100 people who have this surgery, fewer than 5 have serious problems.1 This means that at least 95 out of 100 people do not have serious problems.
Serious problems that can happen include:
- Swelling of the retina, which usually goes away on its own within a few weeks.
- New or different astigmatism, which can usually be treated with glasses or contact lenses.
- An eye infection called endophthalmitis. The infection can lead to blindness, but this is very rare. It happens in less than 1 out of 100 people.
- Problems caused by bits of the cataract left behind. These problems include:
- Retinal detachment. After you have had cataract surgery, your risk for retinal detachment is higher than normal.
Some of these problems can be fixed with other treatment. But you may still have poor vision or blindness in the affected eye. In some cases, the treatment itself may also cause more problems.
Usually, a cataract that isn't removed will slowly get worse and make your eyesight worse:
- You may no longer be able to do your usual daily activities.
- You may not be able to drive safely, especially at night.
- You may be more likely to fall or hurt yourself.
The cataract may make it hard for your doctor to check for other eye problems, such as damage from diabetes.
When a cataract isn't treated until after it has become severe, surgery is a bit more likely to cause problems. In the United States and in other countries where advanced surgical techniques are available, cataracts rarely cause blindness.
Your doctor might recommend surgery if:
- Poor eyesight is affecting your ability to do your job or take part in some leisure or social activities.
- Surgery would help your doctor keep track of another eye problem, such as a problem with your retina.
- You do not have glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or macular degeneration. Surgery may not improve eyesight in people who also have these eye problems.
When children have cataracts that cause vision problems, surgery is usually needed. To prevent permanent vision loss, it is very important to remove cataracts before the child is 3 months old.
Compare your options
What is usually involved?
What are the benefits?
What are the risks and side effects?
- You will probably be awake during the operation. You may feel pressure, but you shouldn't feel pain.
- You will go home the same day.
- Surgery works well to restore poor eyesight caused by cataracts.
- Cataract surgery also improves eyesight for people who are nearsighted, are farsighted, or have astigmatism.
- Your vision may be cloudy for up to 3 months. This will go away as your eye heals.
- You may need laser surgery a few months or years later if your vision clouds up again.
- Serious problems are not common but include:
- You may still need glasses or contact lenses after surgery.
- You will decide when the cataract is affecting your vision and your life enough to have surgery.
- You avoid the risks of surgery.
- Your eyesight will continue to slowly get worse.
- You may have a slightly higher risk of problems from surgery if you wait to have surgery until your cataract is severe.
Personal stories about cataract surgery
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
My left eye is so clouded that I feel like I'm looking through tinted plastic wrap. I'm a little nervous about the surgery, but I need to have good eyesight to read, play cards, and do other things like that. I will talk to my doctor and get more information about what to expect, then maybe I won't be so nervous.
Betty, age 72
I didn't even know that I had a cataract until my eye doctor told me about it during my last eye examination. I suppose my eyesight has changed a little bit, but it has happened so slowly that I haven't noticed it much. So long as I am still able to pass my driver's test and see well enough to do what I need to do, I don't plan to have surgery.
Bob, age 46
I have known about my cataract for a long time. Only recently has it started to bother me. It is very hard for me to drive at night, and I attend a lot of meetings in the evenings. Most people I know have had a good experience with cataract surgery, and my doctor specializes in it. So I feel confident that the surgery is right for me and will help me see better at night.
Harold, age 67
I am very nervous about any surgery on my eyes. I know that cataract surgery is very safe, but it is still surgery on my eye, and the thought of blindness scares me. So far I am able to manage fine, and my eyesight is only affected a little bit. I am going to put off having surgery for as long as I can.
Marie, age 55
What matters most to you?
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to have cataract surgery
Reasons to wait and see
My poor eyesight is affecting my ability to do my job.
My work isn't affected by my poor eyesight.
The glare from the sun or headlights bothers me when I drive.
I don't notice glare from the sun or headlights when I drive.
Because of my eyesight, I can't take part in activities the way I'd like to.
I am able to take part in activities well enough.
I'm afraid I might fall and hurt myself because I don't see well.
I'm not worried about falling or hurting myself.
The thought of having surgery on my eye doesn't bother me.
I don't want surgery if I can possibly avoid it.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Where are you leaning now?
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Having cataract surgery
What else do you need to make your decision?
Check the facts
Do you need to have your cataract removed even if it doesn't really bother you?
- YesSorry, that's wrong. Not all cataracts need to be removed. It depends on how much they bother you.
- NoThat's right. Not all cataracts need to be removed. It depends on how much they bother you.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Not all cataracts need to be removed. It depends on how much they bother you.
Do you have to decide right away about surgery?
- YesNo, that's wrong. Poor eyesight caused by cataracts happens slowly over time, so you probably don't need to rush into having surgery.
- NoYou're right. Poor eyesight caused by cataracts happens slowly over time, so you probably don't need to rush into having surgery.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Poor eyesight caused by cataracts happens slowly over time, so you probably don't need to rush into having surgery.
Decide what's next
Do you understand the options available to you?
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Carol L. Karp, MD - Ophthalmology|
- American Academy of Ophthalmology (2006). Cataract in the Adult Eye. Preferred Practice Pattern. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology. Available online: http://www.aao.org/ppp.