Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: I have a cataract but can still see well enough to drive. Should I have surgery?

Q. I'm 82 and a landscape painter. Lately the sight in my right eye seems to be affecting my painting, although I can still see well enough to read small print and drive. I have a cataract in that eye. Should I have cataract surgery?

A. A cataract is a thickening and cloudiness of the lens of the eye that is more common as we age. If your eye doctor has recommended that you have the cataract removed, then yes, you should have the surgery, especially if your vision is impaired. The surgery involves taking your lens out and replacing it with an artificial one. Being able to see more clearly will not only help your painting, but it will also reduce your risk of falling. There is even some evidence that people who have cataracts removed live longer than those who don't, possibly because their improved vision allows them to participate more fully in life.

These days, cataract surgery is very low risk and takes only about 30 minutes or so. As long as you don't have other eye diseases like macular degeneration or glaucoma that are also affecting your vision, replacing your clouded lens should enable you to see better. You'll have to put drops in your eye and wear a patch or darkened lens for a week or so, but then you will be healed and you can return to painting. There is no reason to put this surgery off.

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