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Cataracts (cont.)

Exams and Tests

Diagnosis of cataracts is based on a medical history and physical exam.

Often tests are used to:

  • Confirm the presence of a cataract.
  • Rule out other conditions that may be causing vision loss.

For more information, see the topics Vision Tests, Ophthalmoscopy, and Tonometry.

When you are deciding whether to have surgery, you may find it very helpful to evaluate the effect that vision loss from a cataract has on your life. Your doctor may ask you to complete a questionnaire regarding the effect of the cataract on your daily activities.

If you already have some vision loss that cannot be corrected by cataract surgery, your doctor may do a low-vision evaluation to help find ways for you to make the most of your remaining vision and to keep your quality of life.

Early detection

During routine eye exams, your eye doctor will look for early signs of vision problems, including cataracts.

Testing your child for cataracts may be needed if you think your child is having a vision problem.

Treatment Overview

Surgery is the only effective method of treating vision loss caused by cataracts.

Cataract surgery is a common procedure that involves removing the clouded lens of the eye (the cataract). The lens makes it possible for the eye to focus (see a picture of the lensClick here to see an illustration.). The lens can be replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens implant (IOL). Sometimes an IOL is not used, and eyeglasses or contact lenses can compensate for the lens that is removed.

Surgery is often not needed or can be delayed for months or years. Many people with cataracts get along very well with the help of eyeglasses, contacts, and other vision aids.

The choices for treating cataracts in children depend on how likely the cataracts are to interfere with the development of normal vision.

Whether surgery is needed for an adult with cataracts depends on the degree of vision loss and whether it affects quality of life and ability to function.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Cataracts: Should I Have Surgery?

What to Think About

Sometimes a cataract needs to be removed because of another eye disease, such as diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration. In some cases the cataract has to be removed so that the eye specialist can treat the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye.

Misconceptions about cataracts are common. More and more medical centers have been built specifically for cataract surgery. Marketing campaigns aimed at older adults may encourage some people to have surgery when they do not really need it. Because of fear of blindness or loss of independence, older adults may think they need to have surgery even when their cataracts do not affect their quality of life. In many cases, wearing eyeglasses or contacts and using other vision aids might be appropriate and just as effective without any of the risks of surgery.

Only you can decide whether a cataract is affecting your vision and your life enough to have surgery. If surgery is not going to improve your vision, you may decide that surgery is not for you.

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