When is the right time for cataract surgery?

Cataracts are a normal aspect of becoming older. Even if you've been diagnosed with cataracts, you don't always have to have surgery right away. Cataracts may not have a substantial impact on vision in the early stages, and changes to your vision may often be corrected with an updated eyeglass or contact lens prescription. However, as cataracts develop, visual changes may occur that are not correctable with glasses or contact lenses, making daily activities more difficult.

Cataract surgery is the most common elective surgery for Medicare recipients in the United States. Numerous studies have shown that patients who’ve had cataract surgery are in better health, have a lower chance of falling and have fewer vehicle accidents. Cataract surgery patients had a 40% lower long-term mortality risk than those who did not have it.

However, patients should be aware that there may be complications from cataract surgery and you may not be totally satisfied with the results after the procedure.  You should proceed with cataract surgery only after you've exhausted other options and your vision is significantly compromised.  All surgeries, including cataract surgery, come with risks.  Some of these risks include: blurry vision, eye inflammation, sensitivity to light, macular swelling, eye infection, drooping lid and ocular hypertension.

Patients should ask themselves these four questions to see if they're ready for cataract surgery:

Are your cataracts interfering with your work or everyday routine?

Cataracts can cause hazy, yellowed, or dim vision, or even double vision in one eye. People who require good vision for work, driving, or hobbies like reading, cooking, or sewing may find it difficult to see because to the lack of contrast and clarity.

Is it difficult for you to drive at night because of your cataracts?

Cataracts can generate haloes around lights and make it difficult to see in dim light, making night driving dangerous. Having advanced cataracts can even result in failing a vision test for a driver's license because of visual loss.

Are cataracts preventing you from enjoying outdoor activities?

Those who like outdoor activities like skiing, surfing, and other sports may find their vision impaired by cataracts, which increases their susceptibility to glare. They can also lead to variations in vision between the eyes, which can impair the long-distance vision required by golfers.

Are there alternative ways to deal with your cataracts?

A thorough refraction by an optometrist can determine if a change to your eyeglass prescription will improve your vision.  If it can, cataract surgery may safely be postponed.   A few simple aids like stronger lighting and contrasting colors in the home can make a big difference for people who put off cataract surgery. Reduce glare with polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Magnifying lenses make reading easier when your visual acuity is diminished.

If cataracts aren't interfering with your daily activities, you can likely wait to have surgery until they do. For those whose quality of life is negatively affected by blurred or dulled vision, the surgery can be extremely helpful.