Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Do cataracts need to be ripe for surgery?

Q. I think I may have cataracts. I heard somewhere that they need to be ripe before I get surgery. Is that true?

A. The lens of the eye is normally clear and has a consistency that is a bit stiffer than Jell-O. A cataract is a clouding of the lens caused by degradation and clumping of various proteins in the tissue. When that happens, the lens also gets stiffer, and in extreme cases, a lens can get as hard as a rock.

illustration of an eye

It's true that people used to have to wait until their cataracts hardened, or "ripened," before they could get cataract surgery. The operation involved removing the lens more or less intact through a fairly large incision in the eyeball. The results were better if the lens was solid, so it wouldn't fall apart as the surgeon extracted it.

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