Treatment and Prevention

A cataract needs to be removed only when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or watching TV. You and your eye care professional can make this decision together.

Is Surgery Right For You?

Once you understand the benefits and risks of surgery, you can make an informed decision about whether cataract surgery is right for you. In most cases, delaying cataract surgery will not cause long-term damage to your eye or make the surgery more difficult. You do not have to rush into surgery.

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Sometimes a cataract should be removed even if it does not cause problems with your vision. For example, a cataract should be removed if it prevents examination or treatment of another eye problem, such as age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.

If you choose surgery, your eye care professional may refer you to a specialist to remove the cataract. If you have cataracts in both eyes that require surgery, the surgery will be performed on each eye at separate times, usually four to eight weeks apart.

Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. It also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward.

Types of Cataract Surgery

There are two types of cataract surgery, phacoemulsification and extracapsular surgery. Your doctor can explain the differences and help determine which is better for you.

With phacoemulsification, or phaco, a small incision is made on the side of the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. Your doctor inserts a tiny probe into the eye. This device emits ultrasound waves that soften and break up the lens so that it can be removed by suction. Most cataract surgery today is done by phacoemulsification, also called small incision cataract surgery.

With extracapsular surgery, your doctor makes a longer incision on the side of the cornea and removes the cloudy core of the lens in one piece. The rest of the lens is removed by suction.

An Artificial Lens Replaces the Natural Lens

After the natural lens has been removed, it usually is replaced by an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens, or IOL. An IOL is a clear, plastic lens that requires no care and becomes a permanent part of your eye.

Light is focused clearly by the IOL onto the retina, improving your vision. You will not feel or see the new lens.

The operation usually lasts less than one hour and is almost painless. Many people choose to stay awake during surgery.

You can return quickly to many everyday activities, but your vision may be blurry. The healing eye needs time to adjust so that it can focus properly with the other eye, especially if the other eye has a cataract. Ask your doctor when you can resume driving.

Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.

If you are age 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

In addition to cataract, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders. For many eye diseases, early treatment may save your sight.