Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding your vision and cataracts is important to good eye health and proper treatment.
1. What is a cataract?
Cataract is the term used to describe a natural clouding of the crystalline lens, which then causes the passage of light to the retina to be reduced and therefore vision to become blurry or dim. The formation of a cataract is unfortunately a normal part of aging for many people. It’s estimated that there are more than 80 million people around the world with cataracts.
2. What causes cataracts?
It is estimated that 95% of cataracts are age-related, with the most prevalent onset typically occurring around the ages of 55 to 60. The incidence of cataracts increases with age. Beyond aging, cataracts may also be the result of eye infections, some medications, injuries, or exposure to intense heat or radiation. Too much exposure to UV rays and various diseases, such as diabetes or metabolic disorders, can also cause cataracts. Although much less common, there are cases of cataracts occurring among infants at or shortly following birth, especially in developing countries.
3. What are the symptoms of cataracts?
A cataract is actually a clouding of the lens inside your eye that initially causes your vision to become blurry. As the condition progresses, vision becomes more blurry until the entire lens becomes so cloudy that vision in that eye is lost. In some parts of the world, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55. The good news is that cataracts can be treated, and the success rate is extremely high—generally over 97%.
4. Is there anything I can do to prevent a cataract?
The exact cause of cataracts is unknown, and there’s no way to prevent them from forming. Our bodies normally replace old cells with new ones. It’s believed that as our eyes get older, the old cells in the eye may build up. Some things you can do to slow down cataract formation are to limit exposure to UV rays, avoid smoking, check for high blood pressure and work toward bringing it into normal range, eat right and exercise to prevent obesity, and avoid excessive alcoholic consumption.
5. Does having a cataract mean that I’m likely to have other eye problems?
No. Cataracts are not an indication that you will have other eye problems. However, some eye problems can develop without symptoms. Protecting the health and safety of your eyes is very important. Some of the ways to help promote a lifetime of good vision are to avoid dangerous situations that could injure your eyes and to wear protective eyewear whenever appropriate, avoid prolonged exposure to UV rays, maintain good nutrition and hygiene habits, and visit your eye doctor regularly for eye examinations. Your vision could also be at higher risk than normal if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or any family history of eye disease. If you’re at higher risk, be sure to take special care of your eyes and have regular eye exams. And if you ever notice any change in your vision or experience any kind of injury to your eyes, see a doctor right away.
6. What are the different options for treating cataracts?
Cataract surgery is very common (more than 7 million cataract procedures are performed each year) and highly effective (over 97% success). It’s typically performed on an outpatient basis, meaning that you won’t have to stay in a hospital after the surgery. During cataract surgery, the surgeon will administer a local anesthetic, make a very small incision to remove the clouded lens from your eye, and replace it with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens, or IOL. Following cataract surgery, most people are pleased with the return to good vision and some even believe that their vision is better than before their cataract developed. It is likely that you will need glasses for some activities, including reading. Cataract surgery is generally very safe, but like all surgical procedures, there can be some risk of infection and complications. There are many types of IOLs that can be used during cataract surgery. There are even some that can correct astigmatism and some that can adjust for presbyopia. Your doctor will determine which type of IOL is best for you following a thorough exam.
7. How long does cataract surgery last?
Cataract surgery can take about 10 to 30 minutes depending on complexity of the case. The ophthalmologist surgeon may be able to advise better on the duration of their patient’s cataract surgery. Taking into consideration the need for pre-surgery preparation and post-surgery observation, you should expect to be at the hospital or surgical center for about 90 minutes. All of this will be explained to you in advance by your doctor or his or her staff.
8. What can I expect following my cataract surgery?
Following cataract surgery, most people are pleased with the return to good vision and some even believe that their vision is better than before their cataract developed. It is likely that you will need glasses for some activities, including reading. Cataract surgery is generally very safe, but like all procedures, there can be some risk of infection and complications.
9. Will I be able to see well immediately following surgery?
You are likely to find that your vision improves within several days of the surgery. Once your vision has stabilized, your doctor may need to fit you with a pair of eyeglasses. The type of intraocular lens that you received will to some extent determine the type of glasses that are needed for optimal vision, if any.
10. Is cataract surgery painful?
Most people say they did not experience any pain during or after cataract surgery. The procedure is typically performed under a mild local anesthesia. Depending on the anesthesia used, you may notice some pressure on the eye and some soreness after the surgery but it usually passes quickly.
11. What’s the risk of not having a cataract removed?
Cataracts form gradually, and therefore early detection and treatment of them can help you save your sight. Left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. However, the good news is that detected early, you and your doctor should have plenty of time to determine when is the best time to have corrective surgery.