Although surgery is the only remedy for cataracts, it is almost never an emergency. Most cataracts cause no problem other than reducing a person's ability to see, so there is no harm in delaying surgery.
Early cataracts may be managed with the following measures:
- Stronger eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Use of a magnifying glass during reading
- Strong lighting
- Medication that dilates the pupil. (This may help some people with capsular cataracts, although glare can be a problem with this treatment.)
Progression of Cataracts. Patients and their families usually have plenty of time to carefully consider options and discuss them with an ophthalmologist. There is no constant rate at which cataracts progress:
- Some cataracts develop to a certain point and then stop.
- Even if a cataract does progress, it may be years before it interferes with vision.
- Very rarely do people need immediate cataract surgery.
Choosing Cataract Surgery
Cataract removal is the one of the most common type of eye surgeries performed in the United States, especially for people over age 65. In the past, cataract surgery was not performed until the cataract had become well developed. Newer techniques, however, have made it safer and even more efficient to operate in earlier stages. Cataract surgery improves vision in up to 95% of patients and prevents millions of Americans from going blind.
Nevertheless, cataract surgery may be performed more often than needed. In general, even if cataracts are diagnosed, the decision to remove them should be based on the patient's own perception of vision difficulties and the effect of vision loss on normal activity. The patient should also be aware of all the risks and costs of surgery.
Review Date: 06/23/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.