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When should I consider cataract surgery?

Cataracts occur when the lens of your eye becomes less transparent and makes the vision cloudy. Cataracts usually develop in a person’s eyes as they age, affecting their eyesight. The only way to completely reverse the formation of cataracts is to have cataract surgery.

The operation to remove cataracts is simple and straightforward, and it’s the most common procedure in the UK with over 300,000 carried out each year1. But when is the right time to have surgery?

Cataracts and eyesight

Not all cataracts affect eyesight. Many people have cataracts that do not cause blurred vision and have absolutely no impact on their lives. However, the reality for most people with cataracts is that their eyesight gets gradually worse as time goes on. It’s impossible to predict how quickly someone’s eyesight will get worse.

When to get cataract surgery

Although most people with cataracts will need to have surgery at some point, there is no need to have an unnecessary operation to remove a cataract that doesn’t affect your life. A cataract should not be removed just because it is there. It doesn’t become any more difficult to remove a cataract if you decide to wait before having the operation2.

However, there is also no need to delay surgery. A cataract can be removed at any stage of its development; you don’t need to stick it out until the last possible moment if you don’t want to. The decision to have cataract surgery will depend on a number of factors, including the effect on your eyesight, and the knock-on impact on the rest of your life3.

Here are some signs that it might be the right time to get cataract surgery:

  • If your vision is making it difficult to read road signs while you’re driving
  • If you have another eye condition which can’t be monitored or treated properly if you have cataracts
  • If you’re finding it hard to keep up hobbies which require good eyesight, such as reading, knitting or playing card games
  • If the cataract is very advanced it can be firmer and harder to remove – in this situation it is safer to remove the cataract sooner rather than later
  • If a cataract is causing inflammation or pressure within the eye, it can lead to glaucoma and permanent loss of vision. However, this is a rare scenario and only occurs with very advanced cataracts1.

If you don’t need or want surgery immediately, there are other steps you can take to improve your vision in the short term (although surgery is the only way to get your vision back fully). You might want to try:

  • New glasses or anti-glare sunglasses
  • Brighter lighting in your home1

When is cataract surgery recommended

It used to be encouraged for people with cataracts to wait until they could hardly see before getting surgery. However, you can now get surgery if your vision is affecting your daily life in any way. If you have cataracts in both eyes, you will have two operations a few weeks apart2.

However, there are some circumstances in which a surgeon might want to delay surgery, including:

  • If they have concerns about the health of your eyes due to another health condition
  • If the risks of surgery outweigh the benefits. All surgery carries risk, and if you only have sight in one eye your surgeon may want to delay until your vision worsens, to make sure the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks3.

It's your decision

Ultimately, whether you want to have surgery at the first sign of blurry vision or delay the operation as long as possible, it’s your right to do so. The decision of when to have cataract surgery is down to the patient, and although a surgeon can advise you they should never put pressure on you either way. You can find out more about cataract surgery in this Q&A, and read about what’s involved in recovery here.