Deciding When to Have Cataract Surgery

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Having cataracts does not mean you should rush to have surgery. In some cases, you could wait years to do it. Other people might not need it at all. 

Cataracts develop slowly. They do not cause pain. But, they can affect how well you see, and this can affect many aspects of your life.  Also, advanced cataracts can be harder to remove.

You don’t have to make the decision by yourself, or based on what your friends say. Talk with your eye doctor about when to have cataract surgery based on what's best for you. There are many factors to consider. 

Consider Your Vision Loss

Your doctor does not have to wait for symptoms of cataracts to be severe before removing the lens. In most cases, you need surgery when blurry vision and other symptoms of a cataract starts to interfere with daily activities like reading or driving.

There is no drug or eye drop to prevent or treat cataracts. Removing them is the only treatment.  Eyeglasses, brighter lights, and magnifying lenses may help ease your symptoms. But, when these things no longer work, it's time to think about surgery.

Cataract surgery can help you see more clearly. It also can correct other eye problems. These include nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. About 90% of the time, people have better eyesight after surgery than they did before they had cataracts. 

Removing cataracts can:

  • Make your vision more crisp and clear
  • Make colors seem brighter 
  • Reduce your dependence on glasses or contacts

Consider Your Quality of Life

Cataracts can interfere with your normal routine. Blurry vision can keep you from doing the activities that you enjoy. Reading, watching television, sewing or playing golf are all harder to do when you don't see well. You may also have more trouble with daily tasks like buying groceries and cooking. And, cataracts can affect your ability to drive. This can make you have to rely on others to get around. 

All of these things can take a toll on your quality of life. It may be time to consider cataract surgery if you want to:

  • Feel more independent
  • Participate in activities you can no longer do
  • Regain some confidence

Consider Your Safety

Cataracts can make driving dangerous. They make it harder to read road signs. They also worsen the effect of glare from headlights and streetlamps. Cataracts can also make it more likely that you'll be injured from bumping into things or falling.

Cataract surgery can help if you want to:

  • Drive safely
  • Remain independent
  • Reduce your risk of falls and injury
  • Feel safer going about your daily routine

Consider the Health of Your Eyes

When cataracts aren't treated, they can cause eye inflammation. They also can increase pressure inside the eye. This can lead to glaucoma, a serious eye condition. To prevent such problems, you may need to remove cataracts even if your vision is not yet blurry. 

It may be time for surgery if cataracts keep your doctor from:

  • Fully examining your eyes
  • Treating other eye problems

Overcome Your Fears

Cataract surgery is painless and usually takes less than one hour. You generally do not need to stay in the hospital overnight. Most people even stay awake during surgery.

Recovery time is short. Many people return to their normal routine 24 hours after surgery. Some people see better right away, though your vision will continue to improve over time. 

Your eye may be sensitive the day after surgery. It may feel a little scratchy, and you may notice bruising around the eye. But, these symptoms usually go away within a few days. Your doctor may prescribe postoperative eyedrops to reduce inflammation and to make your eye feel more comfortable.

If you are worried about surgery, just remember this about cataract surgery:

  • It’s routine: About 3 million people in the United States have the procedure every year.
  • It’s very safe: It has an overall success rate of at least 98%.
  • It’s covered: Most insurance plans including Medicare cover at least part of the cost.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 2
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Facts About Cataract. National Institutes of Health. National Eye Institute.

  2. When Should an Individual Have Cataract Surgery? American Foundation for the Blind.

  3. Cataract: Treatment and Prevention. National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health.

  4. Cataract Surgery.