By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
A cataract diagnosis does not typically mean that surgery is required immediately. Cataracts occur as part of the body’s natural aging process and may not change vision significantly in the early stages. Small cataract-related changes may be improved with prescription glasses. But as the cataracts continue to mature over time, they may cause vision loss that can interfere with activities of daily living.
Although the prospect of cataract surgery can be intimidating, the procedure itself is the most common elective surgery among Medicare beneficiaries in the United States. Multiple studies have demonstrated that cataract surgery can lead to improved quality of life, reduced risk of falling and fewer car crashes. In addition, one study found that those who had cataract surgery had a 40 percent lower long-term mortality risk than those who did not.
The following four questions can help you determine whether or not you’re ready for cataract surgery:
Are your cataracts impacting your daily or occupational activities?
Symptoms of cataracts include dim, blurry or yellowed vision and can even cause double vision in one eye. The lack of contrast and clarity can be difficult for those who need clear vision for work, driving or for those who enjoy hobbies like reading, cooking or sewing.
Are your cataracts affecting your ability to drive safely at night?
Cataracts can cause halos around lights and difficulty seeing in low-light settings, which can impact the ability to safely drive at night. Advanced cataracts can even cause enough vision loss to fail the vision test required for a driver’s license.
Are your cataracts interfering with the outdoor activities you enjoy?
Cataracts can also increase sensitivity to glare, which can be especially troublesome for those who enjoy skiing, surfing and a number of other outdoors activities. They can also cause visual differences from one eye to the other, which can affect the distance vision required for people who play golf, tennis and similar recreational activities.
Can you manage your cataracts in other ways?
Those who decide to put off cataract surgery can make the most of their vision with a few simple tools, such as incorporating brighter lighting and contrasting colors in the home. Polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat can reduce glare, while magnifying lenses can make reading easier.
If cataracts aren’t disrupting your life, you can probably wait and have surgery when they really start to bother you. But if you feel as though cataract-related blurred or dulled vision is slowing you down, the procedure can have a significant and beneficial impact. It’s best to discuss how cataracts are affecting your life and vision with your eye doctor.