When To Have Cataract Surgery: Signals That Cataract Surgery May Be Needed

Jun 15, 2024
 – Besser Eye Care Team
  • Cataracts

Our guide to when to have cataract surgery: symptoms to look for, considerations to make, and what to expect.

Cataracts are one of the most common eye conditions, especially amongst aging americans. Reports indicate that over half of Americans 80 years or older have, or have had, a cataract.

While cataracts are common, it is not always clear when to have cataract surgery. Some patients may even resist surgery as early-stage cataracts do not have a significant impact on their vision.

However, understanding when to have cataract surgery is crucial for a patient's eye health. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, so patients should learn a few things about cataracts, treatment, and when surgery is necessary.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is an ocular condition where the lens inside of the eye becomes cloudy and hard over time, allowing less light to enter. This causes vision to be dim and blurred, and can make daily activities more difficult.

As the lens continues to cloud, patients may experience other issues such as blurry vision, trouble reading, or in serious cases, vision loss.

Cataracts develop slowly and may not be immediately apparent to the patient. In fact, patients may not realize they have a cataract until receiving a diagnosis or experiencing symptoms that affect their vision.

Are cataracts dangerous?

Cataracts range in severity. Mild cataracts, which occur early on, are typically not visually disruptive. In fact, many patients may not be aware they have a cataract during earlier stages.

When patients do show symptoms of mild cataracts, they may be able to alleviate them through a new glasses prescription and lifestyle changes such as protecting the eyes from UV light, and reducing smoking and alcohol intake.

However, later-stage cataracts can have more severe consequences including loss of vision. When patients begin to notice that their cataract is disrupting their day to day activities it might be a sign that surgery is required.

How to know when to have cataract surgery

Doctors typically recommend cataract surgery when a patient’s cataract interferes with their ability to do daily activities such as reading or driving. Patients may also know when to have cataract surgery when they experience certain visually disruptive symptoms.

Blurry vision

Cataracts develop when the lens on a patient’s eye begins to cloud. This clouding prevents light from getting in, often resulting in blurry vision.

Experiencing blurry vision may not necessarily mean a patient needs surgery. However, when this blurred vision begins to affect daily activities, and cause distress, patients may want to consider surgery.

Frequent prescription changes

If a patient is having to frequently change their glasses or contact prescription it is often a sign of a more severe cataract. As this change in prescription becomes more frequent, patients may consider surgery to restore and stabilize their vision.

Light sensitivity

A cloudy lens can impact the eyes ability to focus light. This can reduce the amount of light which reaches the retina and cause light to appear overwhelmingly bright.

If a patient is experiencing this light sensitivity, and it negatively affects their life, cataract surgery may be necessary.


Halos are circles that appear around bright objects such as computer screens and car headlights. These are often the result of refractive errors caused by cataracts.

Halos can be especially disruptive during night driving, as they form around headlights in the dark. Cataract patients should avoid night driving and consider surgery if this symptom has negative consequences.

Considerations before cataract surgery

Life quality

Many minor cataract symptoms can be corrected with glasses or lifestyle changes. A big indicator that it’s time for cataract surgery is when a patient's cataract significantly affects their quality of life.

When to have cataract surgery

Determining what warrants surgery will depend on the patient. Some general signs of when to have cataract surgery are when the cataract makes it difficult to perform professional responsibilities, conduct daily activities, or enjoy hobbies.

Vision loss

Vision loss gets more severe the longer a cataract goes untreated. If a patient already feels hindered by vision loss, and wants to prevent further deterioration, cataract surgery may make sense.


Blurred vision and other cataract symptoms often increase the risk of injury during activities like driving, walking, or completing daily routines.

If a patient has been injured or is afraid of being injured due to their cataracts or symptoms, it is a clear signal that surgery is necessary.

What to expect in cataract surgery

During cataract surgery, a doctor will remove the clouded lens in a patient’s eye and replace it with a new artificial lens to improve vision.

It’s like implanting a contact lens into the eye itself. The procedure is quick and painless—the average cataract removal takes 10-15 minutes.

In traditional cataract surgery the eye doctor uses a blade or scalpel to make a small incision in the front of the eye. They then make a circular cut in the lens and use ultrasound waves to break up the cataract and insert a new artificial lens.

Lens choices

During cataract surgery, patients will have a number of intraocular lenses to choose from. Different lens types may suit different patients depending on their conditions, budget, and the results they hope to achieve.

Some of the most common are:

Monofocal: Standard single-focus lens implant. It will cover only one vision range (distance, intermediate, or near). The cost is covered by insurance.

Multifocal: High-performance upgrades that correct for multiple visual ranges, giving patients freedom from glasses at all ranges. These are not covered by insurance.

Toric: Special lenses that correct astigmatism. Some monofocal and all multifocal lenses have toric versions available. Toric lenses are not covered by insurance.

Cataract surgery recovery

Patients should expect dull and blurry vision in the days after surgery. To facilitate a quick recovery, the eye doctor will likely schedule follow-up visits to monitor progress. Doctors may also make recommendations to speed up healing time.

These can include:

  • Using eye drops and medication

  • Wearing protective eyewear

  • Not engaging in physical and strenuous activities

  • Avoiding irritants such as soap, makeup, and dust

Recovery from surgery is typically short. Most patients will see improvements within a few days of surgery and can expect a full recovery in three to four weeks.


If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area and are unsure when to have cataract surgery, contact Dr. Besser’s office to schedule a consultation.

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