When is the right time to have cataract surgery?
Posted by: Clear Vision Cataract & LASIK Center
You’ve been told you have cataracts, now what?
If you’re reading this, you likely had a recent eye exam with your eye doctor and were given some surprising news: you now have cataracts. The first thought that probably came to mind was: “Yikes, me? I thought cataracts were only for old people!” You’re not alone, but age-related cataracts are actually quite common and can even start as early as our 40s. Keep reading to learn more about cataracts, and when is the best time to consider cataract surgery.
Why do cataracts form?
Cataracts form when the eye’s natural lens begins to change from perfectly clear to cloudy. The analogy we like to use is how an egg white will turn from clear to white when you cook it. As the egg proteins absorb heat they begin to change from clear to cloudy. It’s similar process with cataracts (fortunately much slower!), where the proteins that make up your clear lens absorb heat and UV light energy over time they change from clear to cloudy. As the lens gets more cloudy, vision can start to change.
What are common symptoms of cataract?
The most common symptom of cataracts is blurry or unclear vision. Many people think it’s their glasses or contacts prescription changing (and that may be true), but the cause of this is commonly the lens becoming cloudy. Just like it’s easy to see to the bottom of a clear swimming pool compared to a cloudy pond, a cloudy cataract makes it more difficult to see the world around us. Other symptoms of cataracts can be light sensitivity or glare (especially at night), changing glasses prescriptions, trouble reading fine print, or simply lack of clear vision. If you have some of these symptoms and think you may be developing cataracts, an eye examination by your optometrist or ophthalmologist is recommended.
How common are cataracts?
Cataracts are very common, literally occurring in everyone as they get older. Not everyone has symptoms with their cataracts, however, so not every cataract requires immediate surgery. While significant cataracts form most commonly between age 60-80, they can also start earlier due to medication side effects, diabetes, or simply having a family history of cataracts. Cataract surgery to replace the cloudy lens with an artificial lens is one of the most common surgeries, with over 2 million procedures performed each year in the United States.
How are cataracts fixed?
Cataracts can only be fixed with surgery. While many attempts have been made to invent eye drops to prevent or treat cataracts, these treatments are considered by most doctors to not work. The cataract removal procedure can only be performed by a medical doctor (ophthalmologist) who is specifically trained to perform cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is painless, takes 10-15 minutes, and can be performed in a properly outfitted office procedure suite or an outpatient surgery center. With this procedure, the cloudy parts of the lens are gently washed away with ultrasound and replaced with an artificial lens. There are many different lens options to consider, which your cataract surgeon will review at your consultation.
Can cataracts cause blindness?
In modern times, losing vision permanently from cataracts is extremely rare. However, in some countries without access to modern medical care, cataracts can unfortunately still cause vision loss. The good news is that even with severe vision loss from cataracts, surgery can often reverse the vision loss and restore normal vision! In the United States, cataract surgery should be performed prior to reaching total vision loss, as modern techniques can be done safely and easily to prevent vision loss before it happens. In prior days, cataracts needed to be “ripe” to do the surgery, but this is no longer the case!
When is the best time to have cataract surgery?
This is a very common question, but the good news is that simply having cataracts does not mean you need surgery right away. While cataracts will get worse over time, if you have mild cataracts and can still see things like your phone and road signs, you can often wait on surgery. However, if you feel your cataracts are giving you annoying symptoms and interfering with your daily life, having cataract surgery is reasonable. The timing of cataract surgery is something that the patient and surgeon decide together via a conversation, and not one answer fits all! Either way, if you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts, you should have yearly checkups by your eye doctor to check on the cataracts and make sure your vision is still safe for driving.
Is cataract surgery covered by insurance?
One common question is whether the cataract procedure will be covered by either medical or vision insurance. As cataracts are a medical condition, the cataract surgery is covered by medical insurance, but this will be limited to what insurance deems medically-necessary: the basic removal of a cloudy lens and restoration of a clear lens. If you would like to go beyond basic cataract surgery and reduce or eliminate your need for glasses afterwards, your medical and vision insurance will not cover these additional refractive (vision-correcting) services. Your surgeon will determine if you are a candidate and explain your vision correction options. You ultimately get the final say in your vision after cataract surgery!
Can you have cataract surgery before they are significant?
Many patients ask us if they can have cataract surgery early, because they are sick and tired of wearing glasses and contacts for their high prescriptions. They often weren’t a candidate for LASIK due to their prescriptions, and struggle with thick (and expensive) glasses which have limited peripheral vision and annoying bifocals. The good news is that in many cases, the answer is yes, you can have cataract surgery early and experience the benefits of vision correction immediately. A procedure related to cataract surgery known as custom lens replacement (CLR) was developed for just this situation where cataracts are starting but not bad enough to be covered by medical insurance. With modern lens technology, we can frequently achieve similar excellent vision results as LASIK and avoid the need for cataract surgery in the future. Learn More About CLR
Ready to move forward with cataract surgery? Contact us at 248-710-2325 to schedule your Cataract Evaluation