We are all born with a lens in our eye that helps us focus what we see, much like a camera. When the lens become hazy, our view of the world becomes hazy as well, much like looking out a frosted window. When this happens, we call the now hazy lens a cataract from the Latin word 'cataracta' or 'waterfall' (imagine looking from behind a waterfall).
Developing cataracts is a normal part of aging, much like getting gray hairs. Some people develop cataracts at an early age and some develop it later in life but we all eventually get cataracts. Diseases like diabetes or using certain medications can accelerate cataract development. Just because you develop a cataract does not mean you need to anything about it. Many times, new glasses will compensate for the change in vision caused by the cataract. However, cataracts do not get better and eventually, most people will require surgery to remove the cataract. Surgery is currently the only way to cure cataracts.
So when do you know it is the right time to get cataract surgery? The best time to get cataract surgery is when your vision starts to affect your activities of daily living. What that means is that if you are having trouble with things like reading, driving, or watching TV, even with updated glasses, you should consider getting cataract surgery. Another reason to get cataract surgery, even if you are not having problems with your activities of daily living, is if you have a disease like diabetes and the optometrist or ophthalmologist has difficulty viewing the back of the eye because of the cataract.
Cataract surgery is the most common surgery done in America and generally has a very low complication rate. You should ask your doctor about cataract surgery if your vision has been deteriorating and glasses do not seem to help.
Gintien Huang, M.D.