How is a cataract treated?

In the early stages of cataract development, vision may be improved simply by a change in glasses prescription. Over time, the cataract increases and symptoms are no longer relieved by glasses. The patient will need surgery to restore useful vision once the cataract worsens.

When should surgery be performed?

Cataract surgery should be considered when the cataract causes enough loss of vision to interfere with daily activities that are important to the patient, such as reading, driving, or recreational activities such as golf or tennis.

Occasionally, cataract surgery will be necessary to evaluate and treat other eye conditions, such as diabetic or age-related changes in the retina. Your ophthalmologist can help you with the decision about surgery under these circumstances.

How is cataract surgery performed?

Cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis with local anesthesia (the patient is awake but does not feel the procedure). Frequently, medication is given to help you feel relaxed, as well. You will not see the actions of the surgeon nor anything sharp near your eye. During the surgery, the clouded lens of the eye is broken up with high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) or laser, and then suctioned from the eye by a process called phacoemulsification. The clouded lens is then replaced with a clear, plastic intraocular lens implant in order to restore vision. The prescription of the artificial lens is selected to fit your eye and to help restore normal vision.

When patients have cataracts in both eyes, the surgeries are usually done separately.

A laser, known as the femtosecond laser, can be used to assist in the cataract surgery. This may allow for treatment of astigmatism or other conditions.

What can I expect after surgery?

After surgery, it is normal to feel itching and some mild discomfort. Your doctor may recommend that you take a pain reliever for a short time. You may also have increased tearing from the eye and may be sensitive to light for a short time after the procedure.

For a few weeks after surgery, you may need to use eye drops to aid healing, prevent infection, and control the pressure inside your eye. Strenuous activity, such as heavy lifting or activities that might lead to risk of a blow to the eye, should be avoided for several weeks. Normal non-strenuous activities, including bending, lifting, reading, and driving, can be resumed the day after surgery.

How soon will my vision improve after surgery?

Most patients will have good vision in the operated eye about a week after surgery. You may still need to wear glasses after cataract surgery.

Is cataract surgery safe?

Nearly 98% of all cataract surgeries are performed each year without serious complications. Though this type of surgery is very safe, you should discuss the risks with your ophthalmologist. Cataract surgery with lens implantation is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States, with more than 1.5 million surgeries each year.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/03/2018.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy